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Wisconsin health officials weigh the pros and cons of rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests

Virus Outbreak Home Test
Posted at 6:36 AM, Oct 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-26 07:36:37-04

GREEN BAY, Wis. (NBC 26) — Finding out if you have Covid-19 can take days to figure out.

But more tests that produce results in a matter of minutes could soon, once again, line the shelves of local stores.

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"They are that 15-minute, rapid [test], looking for a piece of protein that's usually there when you have a lot of virus in your nose," Prevea Health President and CEO Dr. Ashok Rai said.

The National Institutes of Health is set to spend $70 million to produce more at-home Covid tests that Northeast Wisconsinites can buy over the counter.

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A rapid COVID-19 antigen test at a Palm Beach County public school during the 2020/21 academic year.

Rai says they're effective if used correctly.

"They're really good quick screens if somebody's positive to keep them at home and prevent them from spreading the disease," he said.

The widely available PCR screening administered by local testing sites can take at least 48 hours to be analyzed. But health experts say a longer wait still provides more reliable results.

COVID-19 test
EMS technician Emmanuel Orrego, left, administers the COVID-19 PCR test to Yosdany Lugo, Monday, July 26, 2021, in Miami. Florida accounted for a fifth of the nation's new infections last week, more than any other state, according to the CDC. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

"The difference is an answer in 15 minutes to an answer in 24 hours or maybe sometimes longer, depending on where that PCR is being sent," Rai said.

Businesses like RX Link Pharmacy in Appleton tell NBC 26 it's been difficult to keep rapid Covid tests in stock.

There are currently 10 at-home tests on the market.

Virus Outbreak Testing
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2021, file photo, a person wearing face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus walks near a sign advertising a rapid COVID-19 testing site in Philadelphia. U.S. healthy officials say that most fully vaccinated Americans can skip testing for COVID-19, even if they were exposed to someone infected. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

"They're not as accurate as the long ones are, but they're a nice screening tool," Waushara County Public Health Officer Patti Wohlfeil said. "We use them a lot in schools. We use them here."

With low availability, self-screening kits can currently cost consumers over $100 out of pocket. If they're in stock, a box of two costs $16 at some local stores.

But Wohlfeil says tests results can be hard to prove.

Rapid COVID-19 tests can produce false-negative results and that's why PCR tests are used as well

"In the State of Wisconsin right now, they're saying if it's not done by a third party, somehow you can't count it," she said.

Still, if you're deciding whether to visit a loved one, a rapid test can help you find a quick answer.

"Why we use them in schools is to give you that ability to screen somebody and make some decisions," Wohlfeil said.

Coronavirus in Wisconsin

More data on Wisconsin's vaccination progress here.

Find a vaccination site here.

Check out county-by-county coronavirus case numbers here.

More information: COVID-19 on the Wisconsin DHS website

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