1) Rapid antigen test are just as accurate in identifying contagious virus in individuals as high as more expensive PCR tests
PCR testing is often referred to as the “gold standard” when it comes to testing for the virus that causes covid-19. In fact, the accuracy of rapid antigen tests is erroneously compared to PCR when determining a test’s sensitivity, the ability of a test to identify someone with the disease.
PCR is an excellent test for making a medical diagnosis for a patient suspected of having or recently having covid-19. PCR testing technology will continue to cycle until it can detect even the faintest amount of viral fragments, which is why PCR testing can show a “positive” result for upwards of 90 days. This is why the CDC does not recommend retesting in someone for 90 days after; there’s no clinical utility.
When judged against such a large PCR “positive” test window, obviously rapid antigen will show a decreased percentage of sensitivity. That’s because rapid antigen test will only show a positive result during the contagious phase of a person’s infectious, which is the aim of testing in a return-to-the-workplace setting. During this contagious period – both pre-symptomatic and symptomatic – rapid antigen testing is as accurate as PCR in identifying contagious virus.
2) Less depending on local lab capacity that is subject to potential bottlenecks if there’s a community surge
The OSHA mandate deadline is set at January 4, 2022. This is the middle of Winter for most of the country when colder weather prevails. And comes at a time when 84 million private sector employees return to work. Covid-19 has shown its ability to surge during any season, but rather than a seasonal virus, its spread is much more dependent on human behavior. As colder weather drives more people inside for gatherings, areas of the country with lower vaccination rates will almost certainly see a surge in cases and pressure on hospital capacity.
A surge will no doubt stress existing laboratory capacity to run PCR tests. In previous surges, we’ve seen delays of upwards of 5-10 days or longer.
The OSHA mandate on testing for unvaccinated employees requires that they complete tests weekly before returning to work on Monday. Reliance on laboratory-run PCR tests will make compliance with this mandate extremely difficult and subject to local laboratory capacity.
Choosing home-based and tele-proctored rapid antigen tests ensures that tests are done and resulted in real-time each weekend before return to work.
3) Faster real time results to quickly identify infectious employees at home before they come to work
PCR testing ought to be reserved only for the medical setting; to confirm a current or recent infection in a patient highly suspected of having the disease.
Rapid antigen testing is the gold standard for public health testing; to quickly and in real-time identify those people who are contagious and who could potentially transmit the virus to their coworkers and family members. This enables companies to be in compliance with the OSHA mandate, quickly identify those contagious and switch them to working-from-home for 10 days, and minimize interruptions to operations.
4) Less interruptions in staffing due to consistent positive PCR test well after employee has passed the infection stage
Reliance on PCR testing will certainly cause workplace operations disruptions. Once an employee tests positive, repeat testing with PCR could show a “positive” result for upwards of 90 days. This is well past the 10 day period during which a person is infectious or capable of transmitting virus. A company relying on PCR tests will have difficulty returning to staff to work if they continue to test positive.
5) Telehealth proctoring of employees self-testing at home reduces the need for pop-up lab or testing facility on site
Choosing rapid antigen testing for your employees is only the first step. To ensure proper testing technique and validity of test results, it must also be paired with tele-health proctoring. Employees can access a tele-health proctor over the weekend anytime for monitoring of their self-testing and logging their result.
This format eliminates the need for an on-site testing facility or “pop-up lab” that may impede operations or add unnecessary cost.
6) Rapid antigen testing is less expensive than PCR testing
Rapid antigen testing is less expensive than PCR testing. The value-added is significant as well. Companies choosing rapid antigen testing to comply with the OHSA mandate will not be subject to delays in testing results from laboratory dependence, disruption in operations from “pop-up labs” or onsite testing facilities, or prolonged absences from employees continuing to test “positive” on PCR tests.
By: Dr. Michael Daignault
Chief Medical Advisor, Reliant Health Services