Are over-the-counter COVID-19 tests reliable?

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the state records an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases as a result of the omicron variant, they’re urging more people to take precaution.

“This is the highest number of weekly cases that we’ve ever had: 129,937 weekly cases in Michigan,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian during a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services virtual press conference Tuesday.

Bagdasarian serves as the chief medical executive for the state of Michigan. She says predictive models show new weekly cases could double in the coming weeks.

The state health department says outside of masking and getting vaccinated, one of the best tools to prevent further spread of the omicron variant is to get tested.

“The antigen test detects if there’s any virus material present in the sample. The PCR test is more detailed. It actually takes the virus, grows it, duplicates it to a much larger amount so then it can more accurately detect it,” said Dr. Ronald Grifka, the Chief Medical Officer at U of M Health West.

Grifka says both tests are reliable, but taking a rapid antigen test, which is readily available over the counter, before you have symptoms could give you inaccurate results.

Recently on social media, people have been suggesting others swab their throat instead of their nose for a more accurate result when taking an antigen test. Grifka says getting an adequate specimen when swabbing is key to get an accurate result.

“If you get a good specimen, (swabbing the throat) can be very helpful. As I mentioned, the tests that are out there now require swabbing both sides of the cheeks, under the tongue, roof of the mouth and you do that for 30 to 60 seconds. The question is, are people going to swab their mouths that thoroughly?” Grifka said.

Grifka says whether you get a negative or positive result from a rapid test, it’s smart to verify your results with a PCR test. He says PCR tests are still considered the gold standard.

The state says they have no way of tracking at home testing. They say while it can complicate the accuracy of the state case numbers and positivity rates, there may not be a need to track every single test anymore.

“I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. We’re entering into a new phase of the pandemic. This is no longer something that’s causing a few hundred or a few thousand cases around the state. This is something that is really taking off,” said Bagdasarian. “If you test at home and you have the results at home and you know how to handle the results of those tests: you know how to isolate, if you know when to seek medical care, we don’t necessarily need to keep track of every single test.”

Health officials are encouraging people to take whatever test is available before attending gatherings. As the state continues battling omicron, officials say they’re working to get more antiviral treatments and 200 additional ventilators out to hospitals.

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