COVID-19 testing options: What’s the difference?

Types of COVID-19 tests work differently and can have different results

Getting a test has become easier as the COVID-19 pandemic continues but the accuracy of every test is different. In the Tri-Cities area, there are two tests mainly used: the Abbott ‘rapid’ test and the PCR test.

The Abbott ‘rapid’ test gives results to the patient within minutes but has a lower accuracy rating. In May, the US Federal Drug Administration warned the public about the test giving false results. According to Kathleen Clary-Cooke with the Benton-Franklin Health District, the PCR test is more accurate although it takes longer to receive results.

“It is a nasal swab and the nasal swab still has to go pretty far up into the nostril and stay in there for 10 seconds and be turned the whole time,” Clary-Cooke said, “They collect both nostrils. At least to the drive-thru testing, the person being tested actually administers the test themselves with the National Guardsman watching and making sure it’s done correctly. The very limited number of issues on the PCR testing, not necessarily ours, but everywhere, is usually a collection issue.”

The Abbott ‘rapid’ test has been widely questioned for it’s accuracy but the manufacturer defends the test’s ability to identify COVID-19. Clary-Cooke said people in the Tri-Cities have run into other issues with the test though. Due to the fast results, a facility can let a patient know their results almost immediately. Afterward, a facility should input the patient’s information into the state’s data base, but the Benton-Franklin Health District found this doesn’t always happen.

“They get their test results told to them and it’s then up to the facility that did that testing to enter it into the state data system,” Clary-Cooke said, “We had a situation where someone contacted us and was asking about their results and it turned out that the facility where they had been tested had in fact told them that they were positive, the facility took several days to then enter it into the system. So there was a lag time for them to hear from a contact tracer.”

BFHD requested help from the Washington State Department of Health a month ago due to raising case numbers in the area and the need for more tracers. The state has now taken over contact tracing for the district. Their goal is to contact individuals within 48 hours of being told of an exposure. The US National Guard is assisting in contact tracing efforts as well as testing in the Tri-Cities. Clary-Cooke reminds people that even though they may have come in contact with someone who contracted COVID-19, that doesn’t mean they will get a call from a tracer.

“When a person tests positive it’s up to that person to give their close contacts, people that they were in contact with up to 48 hours before their symptoms appeared,” she said, “So, someone that you’ve spent more than 15 minutes with within six feet. So it could be that you think, well, I spent five minutes talking to my friend so I’m reporting them to the contact tracer. The contact tracer could say they’re not considered a close contact. Maybe it wasn’t a close enough contact or a long enough period of time. There could be any number of reasons why someone might not then hear from a contact tracer, but it’s really up to the original reporter, the person who tests positive first to make sure that they are providing accurate information to the contact tracer. So you need your friend’s name as well as their phone number. There’s a lot of people who think that contact tracing involves going door-to-door or tracking people on social media and that’s just not the case. We’re relying on the people who test positive to give us that information so that we can notify their close contacts.”

There are two free testing sites in the Tri-Cities including at the Toyota Center in Kennewick and at the HAPO Center in Pasco. No appointment is needed for a test but they encourage everyone to bring an insurance card if they have one. The sites are open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 am to 1 pm. More sites and information can be found here.