New Mexico labs review reliability of rapid COVID-19 tests

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – More and more rapid COVID-19 testing is becoming available across the country, and New Mexico just received a big batch from the federal government. However, they’re not all being put to use just yet.

Human Services Secretary, Dr. David Scrase explained why the state is doing its own analysis of the antigen tests. He said local and state lab doctors are working together this week to ensure the tests are reliable before they start administering the new tests to the public. “There is a place for antigen testing right now if you have symptoms,” explained Dr. Scrase.

Earlier this week, KRQE News 13 reported about New Mexico nursing homes receiving a round of rapid antigen tests for COVID-19, as part of the Trump administration’s effort to expand testing. “The machines and the first round of tests did come from the federal government,” said Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, Secretary for the state’s Aging & Long-Term Services Department.

On Wednesday, Dr. Scrase said the state just received 41,080 rapid antigen tests from the federal government, a batch of Abbott BinaxNow tests.

“It’s important that we find a place to use them,” Dr. Scrase said. “I think the first place is where testing is going on for symptomatic people.”

The rapid-style antigen tests were given Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. But because they can be less reliable than the gold standard deep nasal swab PCR tests for COVID-19, Dr. Scrase said the state Department of Health wants to be certain the tests will be helpful before they’re widely distributed.

“We’ve had a huge national example where people over-relied on this antigen testing, didn’t wear masks, didn’t distance, and then big outbreaks,” Dr. Scrase said.

The CDC and FDA recommend antigen tests work best with symptomatic patients at the onset of infection, and shouldn’t be a stand-alone strategy.

Since the test is less sensitive to asymptomatic patients, doctors from the state lab, TriCore Reference Laboratories, and Los Alamos National Laboratory are working together to analyze the tests.

“At the state lab and Tricore respectively – are running this week and next week ‘testing on the testing’ to see how well does it match up with the PCR? How reliable is it when the test is positive? How reliable is it when the test is negative?” Dr. Scrase explained.

“We have to get more data on those tests on people without symptoms to do the math to see how many days a week would one have to do it for it to be reliable,” he added. “But we are looking at it for ourselves. We want to find a good place to use them.”

Rapid testing is currently playing a crucial role in resuming sports across the country. Whether these tests could be used for that in New Mexico is unclear.

Dr. Scrase said the state, along with TriCore and Los Alamos National Laboratory, will be analyzing results from the new rapid tests for the next couple weeks.

New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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