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Millions Of Rapid Coronavirus Tests Coming To Florida

The Abbott Binax NOW tests can produce results in as little as 15 minutes.  HHS officials said they are about 97 percent as accurate as PCR tests.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests, but federal health officials say their ability to produce results within minutes makes them important tools for curbing the spread of the virus.

Florida has started using some of the more than 6.4 million rapid coronavirus tests it’s set to receive from the federal government throughout the next few months.

State-supported testing facilities like Raymond James Stadium in Tampa began offering the antigen tests this week as their primary testing option.

The highly-sensitive PCR tests they have been using since the start of the pandemic are still available upon request. As with all testing done at these sites, there is no charge for patients.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to ship 150 million of these antigen tests, called Abbott BinaxNOW, to states and territories by the end of the year.

“And to have them distributed across the country in an equitable way that protects our most vulnerable but also allows reopening of the economy and keeping schools, particularly K-12, safe and open,” said Admiral Brett P. Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS.

The agency has sent Florida about 2.28 million tests so far. In addition to allocating some for public testing sites, the state is also giving a portion to schools, first responders, long-term care facilities and senior living communities.

The federal government also sent some tests directly to nursing homes and historically-Black colleges and universities around the country.

These COVID-19 antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests, although Giroir said the Abbott BinaxNow tests perform better than other antigen models. He said they are approximately 97 percent as accurate as a PCR test.

And unlike PCR tests, which typically take a few days – and, during peak times, weeks – to get results, the BinaxNOW tests can produce results in as little as 15 minutes and don't require sophisticated equipment.

That makes them important tools for curbing the spread of the virus among the masses, said Giroir.

“If you're talking about testing hundreds of millions of people per month or per year, this is going to be the backbone of that – low cost, inexpensive, rapid, no instrument-needed types of tests," he said.

Health experts suggest that people who get a negative antigen test result but still have COVID-19 symptoms or known exposures to the virus should follow up with the more reliable PCR test.

That is going to be the plan, at least in Manatee County, according to Director of Public Safety Jacob Saur. The county has a state-supported testing site in Lincoln Park in Palmetto, which will be relocated to the Bradenton Convention Center later this week.

Saur said during a county commission meeting on Tuesday that local health workers would also take over conducting the tests at local senior-living communities because he said the tests’ accuracy depends on trained health professionals using them.

It’s unclear how much responsibility will fall on local governments or the state to carry out this new testing initiative.

Giroir said after the initial 150 million tests are distributed nationally, HHS will evaluate whether the markets for rapid coronavirus tests and related supplies allow states to equitably secure what they need on their own or if they will still need federal support.

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.