The United States is once again seeing cases of coronavirus and hospitalizations begin to rise as summer approaches. Nearly half of Americans — 45 percent — living in communities with medium or high community levels of COVID-19, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, and experts say the actual number is likely to be much higher.
With less public masking and official tests being accurately calculated on the scale right now, people must rely more on individual decision-making than ever before. Although COVID deaths have yet to begin to reflect the latest uptick, the US recently hit the grim milestone of 1 million record COVID deaths, and that number continues to climb.
so what can americans do now slow or limit the spread of the virus, and how at home test fit in the picture?
“Antigen tests are one of the least-used tools of this pandemic,” epidemiologist Caitlin Jetelina told PBS NewsHour’s digital anchor Nicole Ellis in a recent conversation.
Jetelina, Joe Your Local Epidemiologist Writes a Newsletter Regarding the science of epidemiology, gave some advice about the best times and ways to use this tool.
Watch the conversation in the player above.
Why should you use antigen test instead of PCR test?
Jetelina explained they are two different tools with various benefits.
Both types of tests usually use a nasal swab to collect a sample, but antigen tests look for a specific protein virus, whereas a PCR (or polymerase chain reaction) The test tries to match the genetic material of the virus.
A negative test result for either type of test does not ensure that you do not have COVID – it means that the test did not detect it. But antigen tests are “very good at telling us whether or not we are infectious,” she said during a May 17 conversation.
“It is very different from PCR tests. PCR test shows whether there is virus in our system or not. It does not tell us whether we are contagious or not,” Jaitley said.
The Omicron variant, he said, has caused little gap in rapid testing times, as people tend to be symptomatic earlier than with previous variants. Jetelina recommends waiting 24 hours after symptoms develop before using an antigen test.
How should you use an antigen test if you know you have COVID?
a benefit of antigen test is that when While someone with a positive COVID result has been in isolation for several days, a negative rapid test may indicate that they are no longer contagious and it is safe to see others.
If you know you have or have symptoms of COVID and are waiting for a test result, the current recommendation is Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to isolate for five days and wearing a mask in public for an additional five days. But that policy isn’t always foolproof, Zeitlina said.
See more: White House COVID Response Coordinator Dr Ashish Jha discusses rising virus escalation
“Right now the current recommendation is that five days after you are symptomatic, you can leave the isolation,” she said. “But what we are seeing is that people are still contagious seven, 10 and 12 days after the first symptomatic disease.” So a negative antigen test can provide more reassurance.
When and when should you use an antigen test?
“Testing at home is a very good tool to use to break down the transmission chain, especially if you have just come back from a high-risk activity. For example, maybe you went to a concert and you don’t want to bring the virus back to your family,” Jaitley said.
It’s also a good idea to test yourself right before you plan to visit someone who is like a loved one living in a nursing home.
Most insurance providers, including Medicare Part B, state Medicaid plans, and CHIP, will pay for an at-home rapid test. Private health insurance must cover up to eight rapid tests per month per member. depending on the provider, rules may vary On whether you can pick them up at no out-of-pocket expenses or whether you have to apply for reimbursement. Rapid tests can also be paid for or reimbursed with a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings accounts (HSA), according to the IRS. Plus, the White House announced this month that they’re making another Free home antigen test available by mail.