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When to get which COVID-19 test? A Louisville doctor explains

A line of about six people wait in line outside a strip mall, where a free COVID-19 testing site has been set up. 1010 Clarks Lane, Louisville, KY. Dec 26, 2021
People wait in line for COVID-19 testing in Louisville Dec. 26.

As the demand for COVID-19 testing has increased following the holidays and an uptick in cases, a Louisville doctor says different tests could be right for any given situation. 

Dr. Hugh Shoff, associate chief medical officer at University of Louisville Health, said while the different types of tests may detect a positive case, some are less accurate in asymptomatic cases. 

Antigen tests like the rapid at-home kits and rapid tests at health care sites are most useful if a person has symptoms. But these quick tests can also give a false negative, especially when the person is not feeling poorly. 

“I would encourage that anybody in the public who has symptoms, they can use those antigen tests but if it is negative, they should follow up for a PCR test,” Shoff said, adding that “if a person is concerned about being exposed, and they are asymptomatic, then those antigen tests aren't as accurate.”

He said the PCR tests, which have a longer read time, are more accurate overall. 

A person who does test positive on a home test should quarantine and contact their doctor, but does not need to get a confirmatory PCR test, Shoff said. 

The recent popularity of at-home testing could also affect the true number of positives in an area as well. While states track both rapid and PCR tests done at testing sites, that’s not so for the at-home numbers, he said. 

“To tell you the truth I think we probably are not capturing a lot of the people who are doing the at-home antigen tests because there’s not a pathway to record those,” Shoff said.

He said U of L’s urgent care clinics and downtown testing site have seen an uptick in appointments, which started around two weeks ago. He added that “we’ve seen a pretty good jump over this past week since the holiday.”

Shoff said there was a bump earlier in the year when the delta variant first came on scene, but “I think this time we have seen the demand jump a little bit quicker. I think that demonstrates the spread of the omicron variant.”

This week, there have been appointments available, he said. 

“But as you can imagine, if the demand does increase, of course it might get harder,” Shoff said. 

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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