NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The state is now using COVID-19 test kits that give results in minutes. However, the test kits come with a big disclaimer.

New Mexico nursing homes are some of the first places in the state to receive a new batch of rapid, point-of-care antigen test kits. The state Department of Health says the rapid tests won’t take the place of the current testing strategy.

“Ease of use, reliable results, simplicity; that’s the diagnostic experience using the BD Veritor Plus system,” a user video on the testing machine’s website states. Rapid antigen testing kits for COVID-19 like the BD Veritor Plus were just distributed to all 71 of New Mexico’s nursing home facilities.

“We’ve been working together with the nursing facilities in order to determine the best way to utilize those tests,” explained Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, Secretary for New Mexico’s Aging & Long-Term Services Department.

In late August, the Trump administration announced it would deploy 150 million rapid, ‘point-of-care’ antigen tests to the country’s vulnerable populations. The rapid test manufacturers, which were granted emergency use authorization by the FDA, promise quick results.

“Three drops and 15 minutes is all it takes,” the manufacturer states.

However, the antigen tests come with a disclaimer and a word of caution from health experts. “We know in asymptomatic patients, they’re not at all suited for that sort of testing and should be highly avoided,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Human Services Secretary, during an August 6 news conference.

The gold standard for viral tests are called ‘PCR’ tests, and they detect genetic material from the virus. They’re extremely accurate but can take more time for labs to process results.

Antigen tests, on the other hand, look for protein fragments from a nasal swab and isn’t always as accurate as the deep nasal swab PCR test for COVID-19. “The sensitivity is lower, and sensitivity answers the question, ‘What percent of people who actually have COVID will have a positive test?'” Dr. Scrase explained.

Health experts and the CDC recommend antigen tests shouldn’t be used as a stand-alone testing strategy. “Our guidance is really surrounded on exactly your point, where we want to use these tests in addition to what our testing strategy is,” Hotrum-Lopez said.

Hotrum-Lopez said with an upcoming flu season, rapid testing will come in handy with nursing home staff especially. “Because staff are the ones routinely bringing it in,” said Hotrum-Lopez.

The state’s Medical Advisory Team recently finalized guidelines for rapid testing strategies in nursing homes and will implement those strategies on October 15. The frequency of testing in nursing homes will also be based on county positivity rates.

Part of the state guidelines for COVID-19 testing in nursing homes.

According to the state’s guidelines, if a county is in the ‘green,’ and has a positivity rate lower than 5%, only 25% of staff will need to be tested on a weekly rotating basis to ensure every staff person is tested once a month.

If a county is in the ‘yellow,’ or has a positivity rate between 5% to 10%, all staff must be tested on a weekly basis. And when a county is in the ‘red,’ or has a positivity rate higher than 10%, all staff must be tested twice a week.

The rapid tests can help the staff determine when to quickly isolate someone as they await a secondary PCR test result, especially “If a facility sees that a resident or staff person is exhibiting symptoms, or they had a known exposure,” explained Hotrum-Lopez. “Then those point-of-care tests should be utilized as a layer of protection for all residents and staff in that facility,” said Hotrum-Lopez.

Rapid testing strategies are also being utilized among athletes. Whether New Mexico will expand the rapid antigen testing is unclear at this point.

Nursing homes were given the first rounds of antigen tests through a coordinated effort with the state. If facilities want to buy more, each new testing kit costs around $25 to $30.