Philadelphia health officials weary of false negatives from rapid COVID-19 tests

Urgent care
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By KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Rapid COVID-19 testing has become more widely available in Philadelphia, offering results in just minutes, whereas regular tests can take days. However, health officials are warning that the faster tests are more likely to produce inaccurate results, which could lead to further spread of the coronavirus.

Vybe urgent care centers are among those offering rapid tests, by appointment. 

All other COVID-19 tests at Vybe clinics must begin with a virtual doctor visit, which will allow a clinician to determine whether the patient needs a PCR test, which shows whether the virus is present, or an antibody blood test, which shows whether a patient has had an immune response to the virus.

KYW Medical Editor Dr. Brian McDonough says PCR tests, which are more invasive, are also more efficient.

"When you do a PCR test, the genetic material is collected in a much more efficient way, but because it’s collected in a much more efficient way, it’s more expensive. People need to wear PPE. It’s somewhat painful," he said. "The rapid test — the price you pay is that, in some cases, you may not pick up the virus as efficiently as it will in the other form."

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley says he's still worried about false negatives — meaning a patient could have COVID-19, even though the rapid test returns a negative result. 

"I’m not saying they shouldn’t do that," Farley said, referring to the rapid test, "but I think they they need to be very careful."

He says they may want to get a regular test anyway.

"For somebody who has symptoms or has a high likelihood of being positive, if they get a negative result, they need to have a regular test done to be sure that they are in fact negative," Farley said.

McDonough says, regardless of positive or negative test results, everyone should still take precautions, including social distancing, hand washing, and wearing a mask.