In the past, some of the press and social commentary about rapid antigen tests has been negative. This mainly reflects the need for continued education on the best use case for rapid antigen testing versus PCR (molecular) testing. PCR tests are extremely sensitive and therefore can detect remnants of the virus in a host long after a person is infectious. Rapid antigen tests are effective for identifying people who are currently infectious for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Then PCR is used to confirm the rapid antigen positive result (or the negative result from a symptomatic person). Because of rapid antigen tests’ immediate convenience and ability to detect current infection, and PCR’s extreme sensitivity, these testing modes work great together to help institutions and communities reduce the spread of COVID-19. Here are some examples from around the world:
- Maine: the state is using point-of-care rapid tests, particularly in those who are unvaccinated and working in a public-facing job, to keep incidence rates of COVID-19 low.
- Quebec, Canada: all businesses that need employees to be in-person have access to free rapid antigen tests.
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- Germany: “The idea of testing to freedom in Germany first started in Tübingen, a university city in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg. In the weeks before Christmas last year, the local Red Cross set up a tent in the city center and began administering free rapid antigen tests to the public. Only those who tested negative were allowed to enter the city center to visit stores or the booths of a reduced Christmas market. [For more, see: “German Town Finds a Blueprint for Lowering Covid-19 Deaths.”]
- NBA: The NBA in the United States used rapid testing to enable teams to have a mostly fully functioning 2020-2021 season.
- University of Arizona students, staff, athletes, and patients: through September 2020, 96-98% agreement between rapid testing and PCR testing over 25,000 individuals
- Los Angeles, California Public Schools: rapid testing helped the school district better handle the winter surge in cases.
- Slovakia: “Within one week, counties in Slovakia that had undergone two rounds of mass testing saw the prevalence of COVID plummet by 58 percent, researchers reported in late March in Science. And additional modeling suggested that case levels fell by an estimated 70 percent, compared with a scenario of unchecked growth at the rate seen before mass testing began.”
- Chattanooga, Tennessee: individuals have access to free rapid tests as a part of a large-scale federally funded initiative to see how well they contribute to mitigating the spread of disease
Want to learn more about what rapid antigen testing is? We've got you covered here.