At-Home Testing Has Become Popular, But May Not Be Completely Accurate; Travel, Work-Related Needs Drive Test Seekers To Get Professionally Administered Tests
SEATTLE – As COVID-19 positivity rates again increase across the U.S. and the State of Washington and the White House shifts at-home tests funding to instead support vaccines and treatments, national testing provider GS Labs continues to test hundreds of patients daily who are seeking out professionally administered COVID-19 tests. With at-home rapid tests widely available on store shelves or by mail, what’s driving these patients to come to a private laboratory?
Four reasons, says Dr. Darin Jackson, GS Labs medical director: The peace of mind that comes from having a professional handle a medical test; to confirm a negative COVID-19 rapid test for patients who display symptoms of COVID-19; proof of positive COVID-19 status acceptable to employers; and proof of negative COVID-19 status required for travel to certain destinations.
“There’s absolutely a sense of COVID-19 fatigue out there for a lot of people – but not for everyone,” says Jackson. “People with high-risk family members or people who are at-risk themselves and show symptoms of COVID continue to come to us because they want the most accurate test results possible. There’s a lot of research on at-home testing now, and while the tests are accurate, they don’t quite measure up to professionally administered tests performed and analyzed by a laboratory. Additionally, results from at-home testing results are not being reported.”
In accordance with CDC protocols, it is standard practice for symptomatic patients who received a negative rapid antigen test to next to be tested via a PCR test. This “confirmatory PCR” identifies individuals who received a negative rapid antigen test result but are in fact positive for COVID. Recent confirmatory PCR results show that 15% of symptomatic GS Labs patients who received a negative test result by the rapid antigen test are actually positive. Together, this highlights the personal and public health necessity for follow-up PCR testing when a rapid antigen is negative.
Workplace and travel needs are also driving private tests, says Jackson, who notes that in Washington, about 25 percent of the state over age 5 is not fully vaccinated against COVID.
“In Washington, there’s still about 1.9 million residents over age 5 who haven’t been fully vaccinated,” says Jackson, noting that net number will grow given recent FDA approval for vaccines for ages 6 months and older. “We’re giving tests to people whose employers require a professional positive test in order for PTO purposes or to reimburse the employees for various items. Also, it’s important to note that many countries – including Canada – still require proof of full vaccination or a professionally administered negative COVID test from travelers seeking to enter the country.”
The U.S. State Department website keeps a worldwide list of travel entrance requirements: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/COVID-19-Country-Specific-Information.html
In Washington, GS Labs’ weekly patient positivity rate began climbing in mid-April, from just over 2% to a sustained rate of more than 18% during the prior five weeks. This mirrors results from GS Labs’ nationwide lab network, where the most recent seven-day rolling positivity rate is 20% – approaching its highest-ever positivity rate of 23%, which was recorded during the Omicron peak.
“Fortunately, we continue to have ample tests and appointments for patients who need them,” says Dr. Jackson. “Our commitment to convenient and accessible testing remains unchanged, as does our top priority: providing critical health information to individuals across Washington state and beyond.”
Lab testing capacity and availability remains strong at GS Labs, which operates five Washington-state testing sites: Bellevue, Federal Way, Lynnwood, Seattle and Vancouver. GS Labs’ state-of-the-art custom technology platform is built to serve as many as 1,000 patients per day at each location. GS Labs’ digital platform allows patients to book within 15 minutes of their proposed appointment and to receive accurate rapid results in as little as 20 minutes after the completion of a rapid antigen test. Appointments for all tests must be made online prior to arrival at https://gslabstesting.com/.
Two tests are fully covered by insurance in the event the patient is experiencing symptoms or has had a recent exposure: a rapid antigen test for $179 – which typically returns results as quickly as 20 minutes – and a PCR test for $229 that returns results in 2 to 5 days. Both tests have no out-of-pocket cost with accepted insurance.
Additionally, GS Labs offers rapid PCR-NAAT and PCR-LAMP tests for $299 each, with results typically returned in about two hours. These tests, ideal for travel or screening testing, are available with cash payment only. Travel destinations may have different, specific testing requirements, so customers are urged to research which test is required before booking an appointment. A combination rapid antigen COVID and flu test is available for $199, also with cash payment only.
Since it began offering testing, GS Labs has tested more than 1.3 million patients across the country. To date, GS Labs has identified more than 230,000 patients positive for COVID-19. Headquartered in Omaha, GS Labs entered the COVID-19 testing space as the pandemic initially swept through Nebraska and the Midwest. At the time, loved ones and friends of the company’s partners could not find COVID-19 tests anywhere after being exposed to the coronavirus. From that initial location, the company has expanded across the U.S.; its current footprint includes more than a dozen locations in eight states.