Getting a COVID test for the holidays shouldn’t be a problem in Maryland

Last year, there were shortages of COVID-19 tests available right before the holidays as everyone rushed to try and get one before they gathered with their family.

Is history repeating itself this year? Not in Maryland.

“We’ve got a lot of testing availability and people should be able to find a test,” said Dr. Clifford Mitchell, with the Maryland Department of Health.

Maryland has a website to help residents find nearby COVID-19 testing sites. This year, residents can also take a test at home. Many drugstores are stocking COVID-19 at-home antigen test kits.

“There’s extensive development and validation that’s done to bring these tests to the market,” said Dr. Mitchell. “They can be slightly less specific, but they are very good for situations where people, for example, may have symptoms, and they’re not clear whether they are COVID symptoms or perhaps flu symptoms or a cold.”

Make sure to read the instructions, though — many of them come with two tests and advise you to take them both, 24 hours apart.

“The advantage of doing that is if people test relatively early after they think they might have a problem, a second test improves the likelihood that you can correctly identify when you have been exposed and become infected with COVID.”

So how do the over-the-counter tests differ from the PCR tests that you get from the doctor’s office or health department? The antigen tests detect how much virus you are shedding, which equates to how contagious you are.

“That’s really the goal of them — to detect people who are in the course of their disease where they’re most likely to spread it to others,” said Dr. Gregory Schrank, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “The benefit of them getting results immediately is that they can be used to make decisions about whether or not to isolate, or if it is safe to proceed with going to visit a loved one.”

The PCR test can identify even very small levels of virus that may be present.

“This comes up with many people,” Shrank said. “They may have a positive PCR test that lasts for weeks, well beyond when they have any lingering symptoms, because the test continues to detect even small pieces of genetic code and material that are present in a person’s nose a while after they’re no longer contagious.”

There are many brands of at-home tests on the market, and according to Schrank, they all perform similarly and quite well.

If you are looking for one of the at-home tests in Maryland and can’t find any at your local drugstore, some Maryland Health Department offices are offering the antigen tests. You can also find those sites at covidtest.maryland.gov .

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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