Asymptomatic accuracy of rapid COVID-19 tests

Jennifer Lewke
Updated: December 01, 2020 05:15 PM
Created: December 01, 2020 04:27 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The rapid testing kits being used at pop-up locations in the Orange Zone are what’s known as antigen tests.

They require only a shallow swab of the nose and detect certain proteins that are part of the COVID-19 virus but there is still some question as to just how accurate they are when being used on asymptomatic individuals. 

The BinaxNOW Rapid COVID-19 test made by Abbott Technologies is what’s being used by the City of Rochester and the Towns of Irondequoit, Gates and Brighton to test asymptomatic residents in the Orange Zone.

The same kits have also been used across New York State to test school children. They are provided to the state by the federal government and then funneled through local health departments.  

The testing kits were actually part of a clinical trial that took place here in Rochester, at URMC, earlier this year which led to the kit being approved for emergency use by the FDA. Kian Merchant-Borna leads the local research team.

“The BinaxNow antigen test was able to detect, accurately detect, 97% of the individuals that ended up having COVID-19 and accurately classified 98% of the individuals who did not have it,” he explained.

But that was in patients across the country who came to emergency rooms with symptoms of COVID-19.  

As far as statistics on asymptomatic individuals.

“We’re starting to collect the data on that now,” Merchant-Borna said.

Asymptomatic accuracy is phase 2 of the clinical trial which is still underway at URMC and the other testing sites.

“From a scientific standpoint, we don't yet know. There's no reason to think that it's any less accurate but when you start enrolling a larger portion of asymptomatic people, you're likely to get more of those false positives which can be potentially dangerous,” Merchant-Borna explained.  

So, if you test positive on one of the kits, you’ll likely need to be tested again with a traditional PCR test. False negatives are also possible with the antigen test too,.

“Although we don't have all the scientific evidence to know just how accurate it is in an asymptomatic population, it truly is better than nothing. And if the alternative is having no test, I think this is a really great tool to have,” Merchant-Borna said.  

For more information on testing accuracy, click here.

For more information on clinical trials at URMC, click here.

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