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Health Team

Rapid COVID-19 tests: What are they and where do I get one?

Posted September 16, 2020 7:09 a.m. EDT
Updated September 21, 2020 5:50 p.m. EDT

— More rapid coronavirus tests are now available North Carolina, delivering results in minutes, not days.

Doctors at Avance Primary Care said they have plenty of the antigen rapid tests, which yield faster results than molecular tests.

"If you’re asymptomatic and [just need a] screening for school or for an operation, we’re going to recommend the molecular test," said Dr. Joanne Fruth from Avance Care. "If you have some symptoms, we can do the rapid antigen test."

Fruth explained that, even if the rapid test is negative, doctors still recommend monitoring symptoms and avoiding people until you feel well.

What's the difference?

There are two types of tests -- molecular tests and antigen tests.

Some molecular tests are sent off to a lab to be tested with an analyzer and produces results in a few days. Some molecular tests can be done rapidly at the office.  

An antigen test uses bits of protein or viral shedding mixed with a chemical. These tests can also be analyzed in the office, yielding faster results. Doctors say it uses the same analyzer as a flu test, and results come back in 15 minutes.

Both molecular and antigen samples are taken with a nasal swab.

"The rapid [antigen] test has some limitations," Fruth. "It's a good test, but it’s not a perfect test. We follow the guidelines from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and don’t do rapid antigen tests on asymptomatic patients."

A negative result from a rapid antigen test is not conclusive proof that an individual doesn't have the coronavirus if they have symptoms. Those with symptoms like cough, high fever and shortness of breath should follow up with a molecular test to be certain.

So far, Avance has performed 1,500 rapid antigen tests.

If people have symptoms of COVID-19, they must isolate at home until they get their coronavirus test results. Health experts say people can have information more quickly on if it is safe to return to work, school or daily activities with their rapid test. NCDHHS has guidance on what do after getting tested.

Rapid antigen tests, combined with social distancing and mask wearing, also help limit community spread, experts say.

Where can I get a rapid test?

Gov. Roy Cooper signed a letter of intent -- along with six other states -- to get 500,000 rapid antigen tests for the state.

State health officials have also coordinated a series of rapid antigen test deliveries from USHHS.

A batch of antigen tests will go out from USHHS over the next few weeks to high-risk groups in North Carolina, including people living or working in nursing homes, assisted living facilities or home healthcare agencies.

Rapid antigen tests are also being distributed to students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities plus North Carolina tribes on a limited basis.​

If you're not in any of the groups listed above and you still want to get a rapid antigen test, some clinics like Avance and MedFirst have them in stock.​

MedFirst said it has 5,500 rapid antigen tests split across its seven locations in Swansboro, Jacksonville, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Wake Forest, Smithfield and Statesville.

Avance Care said they are also offering rapid antigen testing at 15 locations across the Triangle at its Raleigh locations and at clinics in Chapel Hill, Knightdale, Clayton, Cary, Wake Forest, Apex, Holly Springs, Garner, Morrisville and Durham.

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