ST. LOUIS — Gone are the days when COVID-19 tests were hard to come by, scrambling for appointments or waiting in long lines to get swabbed: the FDA has granted an emergency use authorization to several of these antigen tests. Now available in stores in the St. Louis areas, they offer fast results without the lab — or a prescription.
“This exciting news that we do have these tests that are available over the counter and they are also relatively cheap,” said Dr. John Mwangi with SSM SLU Hospital.
The Abbott BinaxNOW test is available in CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart pharmacies right now for about $24 (call or check online to see if they're in stock at your local store). Similarly priced Quidel QuickVue (about $30) and Ellume (about $39) tests should be on store shelves in the coming weeks.
“The different testing options, different vaccine options and everything that is available now and potentially coming in the future will only help us just continue to progress and move down this road, hopefully farther and farther away from the pandemic,” said Melissa Parmalee, a clinical specialist with Jefferson County’s Health Department.
The BinaxNOW kit comes with two tests that deliver results in 15 minutes. Abbot claims they are 95% effective at detecting the virus; Dr. Mwangi says they can be just as useful as a test at a clinic — if performed properly.
“Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the very, very important, because if you don't process it appropriately, it can give you some false results,” said Dr. Mwangi.
What about testing guests before a party, or a group before a gathering? Dr. Mwangi said it could provide peace of mind but it doesn't replace all other COVID safety measures.
“It’s not 100% accurate,” he said.
It's also most useful for detecting the virus, they said, if you're already sick.
“Generally, the antigen testing does do better just for a one-off test if you're symptomatic,” said Parmalee. “You just have to keep in mind, if you're not symptomatic and you're just doing a random test, the sensitivity is going to be a little bit less.”
If you test positive — or you're negative but not feeling good — isolate and call your doctor. Even with a vaccine available, the FDA says widespread testing will be an important part of managing the pandemic, and tools like this help.