NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexicans have seen long lines for coronavirus tests and sometimes it takes days for the results to come back. It’s part of the reason why the state is considering new types of testing for COVID-19 down the line but there are some drawbacks.
For weeks, New Mexico has hit its mark, testing well over 5,000 people a day for COVID-19. But like other states and countries, New Mexico’s Medical Advisory Team is looking for ways to expand resources, and if possible, expedite the process.
“Is it better to use the tests we have right now which are really really accurate, but in New Mexico can sometimes take a couple of days to get back?” Dr. David Scrase discussed the topic in an interview with KRQE News 13 on August 12. “Or if we had a less expensive test that wasn’t anywhere near as reliable, let’s say 75% accurate…which would be better?”
It’s a question the medical community is weighing. In May, the FDA granted its first emergency use authorization for a COVID-19 antigen test.
The gold standard for viral tests are called a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR tests, and they detect genetic material from the virus. They’re extremely accurate, but take time for labs to process.
An antigen test, on the other hand, looks for protein fragments from a nasal or throat swab. It’s less expensive and much like a home pregnancy test can provide results in minutes. The downfall is that antigen tests have a higher chance of giving someone a false negative.
“So those are the things we have to weigh and we just need more data,” said Dr. Scrase. “I think it’s a promising idea. We’ve asked the MAT to study that and come back to us, and we’re expecting a better answer this week with a little more of their review of the literature,” he added.
Giving people the ability to test themselves daily from home could be a game-changer. However, without repeated testing to catch a false negative, the strategy has its holes.
“I love these debates,” said Dr. Scrase. “I think they force us to think completely differently about these problems, and I think in my experience, thinking differently about problems usually helps you come up with better solutions.”
The FDA says antigen tests are not as sensitive as molecular tests and some can miss up to half of the active infections, which is why it’s not favored as a stand-alone strategy.
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