Thousands of antigen tests set to arrive in Vermont in the coming months

Vermont is preparing to distribute thousands of COVID-19 antigen tests in the coming months in an effort to expand access to testing in long-term care facilities, according to the state’s health department.

Health Commissioner Mark Levine announced the distribution plan in a news briefing Tuesday. The White House informed all state governments on Monday that they would send out the tests, which were developed by the medical company Abbott Laboratories.

“In the next 7-10 days, Vermont will receive 12,000 of these (antigen tests) and sometime by the end of the year, 180,000,” said Levine.

A health care worker performs an antigen test at a COVID-19 testing site.

The antigen tests will come in the form of cards that, similar to pregnancy tests, will reveal a “band of blue” after a clinician completes a nasal swab on a patient, which will denote the presence or absence of the novel coronavirus.

Tests will not be self-administered, Levine added, and will initially be used in long-term care facilities, where rapid, periodic testing may be needed in the case of a potential outbreak. He expects the tests will be used at least once a week in those facilities.

The availability of these tests, however, does not mean relaxed visitation rules in the facilities.

“We’re not looking to provide a level of false reassurance, we want to be totally reassured, because the last thing we want to do is introduce any potential infection into a building that we’re trying to protect in other ways,” Levine said.

The reliability of antigen tests has been called into question. 

In July, 65 positive COVID-19 test results reported by Manchester Medical Center were later determined to be just four, after the health department found a majority of the results were false positives. Those tests were manufactured by a different company, Quidel Corporation.

“Keep in mind, I have always said antigen testing will have a role in Vermont,” Levine said Tuesday.

“We are not going to throw away these cards, they will definitely be used in Vermont, but they’ll be used with a significant amount of guidance.”

Coronavirus testing: How antigen and PCR tests differ

What are the different type of COVID-19 tests?

PCR tests

A PCR test checks for evidence of the virus’s genetic material. Once a nasal swab is completed, it can take 24 to 48 hours to confirm results via a lab.

Antigen tests

Antigen tests search for the presence of specific viral proteins, are cheaper and can provide results much faster — in an hour or less, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — but are also more likely to miss an active infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend using this method to test individuals already showing symptoms.

Serology tests

The third way to test for the coronavirus is by looking for antibodies in the blood. But this method, also known as serology or antibody testing, cannot identify an active infection, and there is question as to whether the presence of antibodies signals immunity to the virus.

Contact Ethan Bakuli at (802) 556-1804 or ebakuli@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @BakuliEthan.

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