Rapid COVID-19 test concerns left unanswered

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — For months, the White House used tests to help limit the president’s possible exposure to the coronavirus.

Last week the Trump administration announced it will send millions of rapid tests to states to help get students and teachers back to school.

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With the top aide and the first family testing positive, there are questions about how well they work.

The downside to the test is the results are not always as reliable. That means you could be infected with the virus and still get negative results.

Experts said it’s not such a bad idea for a school district like Shelby County Schools.

“The rapid test is cheaper, it’s easier to perform and it also comes back a little bit more quickly, sometimes in as little as 15 minutes, whereas the PCR will take 24 hours,” said Sara Cross, an infectious disease specialist.

Cross is an infectious disease physician at Regional One Health and associate professor at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. She said about 20 percent of the time, rapid test results can come back with false negatives.

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“The situations where it can be helpful are in outbreak settings and also for repeated screening of individuals in high-risk congregate settings to quickly identify individuals.”

Cross said this is more likely to happen in schools, workplace settings, like factories, and places where there are a lot of people around. That makes it easier to isolate the people who have the virus and protect others.

“Some people will continue to downplay the severity of this infection and that’s what I worry about. People are dying every day of COVI-19, and we all need to realize that,” Cross said.

Again, experts say rapid testing is better than nothing, however, you’re less likely to run into as many problems with other tests.