Doing rapid tests for COVID-19 should be part of holiday plans

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is suggesting that people gathering for the holidays should do rapid tests for COVID-19 before getting together.

“An at-home test can tell you if you have disease right now and whether you might transmit it to somebody else,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a Tuesday briefing.

Walensky said that along with following other safety protocols, everyone, especially in multi-generational households, “might want to do a test for an extra set of reassurance to make sure that you can gather safely together.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine, meanwhile, has published data collectively with study partners that shows rapid antigen tests compare solidly with laboratory-dependent PCR tests for accuracy in detecting the virus that causes COVID-19.

Rapid antigen tests detected the virus in 87% of patients with COVID-19 symptoms and in 71% of those who were asymptomatic, according to a study involving some 6,000 patients seen at the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital (BCCFH) during a 10-day period in late 2020 and early 2021.

PCR tests that have to be submitted to a laboratory for results are essentially 100% accurate, but study authors said that in high-volume settings, the rapid tests offer many advantages.

They save time and money and the level of convenience eases testing distribution among harder- to-reach communities.

“The ability of the BCCFH to test people who would traditionally have had limited access to such procedures was critical for our study because it also enabled us to see if rapid antigen or PCR testing were the best means of tackling that disparity,” Dr. James Ficke, professor of orthopedic surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s senior author, said in a news release.

“That’s important because the more we can get tests out to all members of the community, the stronger our effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” Ficke said.

As for affordability for individual households, the White House’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that the administration is making sure Americans get reimbursed by their insurers for the at-home tests.

While that doesn’t solve the financial challenge of covering initial costs, save your receipts to get reimbursed.

WTOP’s Jack Pointer contributed to this report.


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Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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