UDOH temporarily pausing use of rapid tests at state-operated testing sites
SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Health announced Sunday that it will temporarily pause the use of on-site rapid antigen tests at all state-operated COVID-19 testing sites.
The change goes into effect Monday, Feb. 7 at sites run by UDOH mobile test teams, TestUtah and TourHealth.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen said the decision was made after looking at data following concerns raised early last week from state mobile testing partners. Some of these partners were using the FDA emergency authorized GenBody rapid antigen tests because of a shortage of the BinaxNow tests used previously.
“They noticed that they were getting a lot more negatives that would come up later as positives, or that they also had a lot of people who were testing negative who had very clear symptoms of COVID,” Nolen explained of the GenBody tests.
This led to UDOH pulling data back to late December, when they first began using GenBody tests at testing sites.
The data, Nolen indicated, showed that among 18,000 Utah residents who received both a PCR and rapid antigen test and tested positive for COVID-19 by a PCR test, 62% tested negative by a GenBody rapid antigen test.
Only 38% received a correct positive result from the GenBody test.
“We are really concerned by those numbers, and we certainly want to evaluate why this is happening,” Nolen said.
Laura, a resident of Salt Lake County who did not want to use her last name, described how she believes she received two false negative rapid antigen results. She didn’t know she was infected with COVID-19 and thought she was okay for over a week, before a PCR test turned up positive.
The first rapid antigen test on Jan. 28, which Laura said she took through a state-run site after developing symptoms of COVID-19, came back negative.
Because she was experiencing cold symptoms, Laura worked from home and did not attend church or other activities. But, thinking she didn’t have COVID-19, she still went grocery shopping while masked and ran other errands.
After continuing to experience symptoms last week, Laura again went to a state-run test site Thursday, but this time for both a rapid antigen and PCR rest.
“The [rapid] one came back saying it was negative, and then the next day, [the PCR] was positive, and so I’m like, okay, is it a false negative? Or is it a false positive? Because I don’t really know,” Laura said.
After hearing the announcement Sunday, she now knows she received a false negative rapid test.
It gave her relief that she had taken precautions, despite double the negative test results.
“It was validation for sure that I’m like, okay, well at least I wasn’t cancelling all these things just because I have a cold, you know, or just because it’s something little,” she said.
But she knows others may not have been as careful.
“I just wonder how many people are out there that think they’re okay and they’re spreading things,” Laura said.
Dr. Michelle Hofmann, deputy director for UDOH, said health officials have known all along that rapid antigen tests are less sensitive, and that anyone with symptoms should consider that they might have COVID and should isolate for five days from when they’re tested and until symptoms improve.
She said they’re doing the right thing to halt the GenBody tests to figure out why they’re not performing as well as other tests.
UDOH Executive Director Nate Checketts said they have 400,000 GenBody tests on hand that will not be used, as they conduct a review over the next couple of weeks and assess the best way to move forward.
Nolen said that they’ve reached out to partners around the country to see if they’ve also had issues with GenBody tests. So far, she said, they haven’t heard of any other places.
“We’re going to be working with the company, the FDA, and other places to see, is this something specific to this test? Is it something specific to how we’re using the test?” Nolen articulated.
Health officials advised those who received a negative rapid antigen test result at a state-sponsored testing location between Feb. 2-6 to consider returning and being re-tested with a PCR test, or request an at-home testing kit at the site.
Beginning Monday, state-contracted sites will also offer at-home tests for those who get a PCR test but may want results faster.
At-home rapid antigen tests can also be ordered online through the federal government.
A list of COVID-19 testing locations throughout Utah can be found here.
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