By Peter Cox 

With rapid spread, a clamor for tests


December 24, 2021

MPR News photo

Boxes of BinaxNOW rapid antigen self tests for Covid-19, along with other rapid at home tests, have been selling quickly at pharmacies and stores as families plan to get together for the holidays.

With travel expected to be near pre-pandemic levels, the demand for Covid tests - as well as vaccinations - are up across the board. The fast-spreading omicron variant adds urgency. State health officials on Wednesday announced that omicron is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus in Minnesota.

A spokesperson for Abbott Labs, which manufactures the BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests, said the company is seeing unprecedented demand and currently produces about 50 million tests per month, with the goal of up to 70 million per month in January.

On the Minneapolis Vaccine Hunters page, an information portal for Minnesotans looking to find Covid vaccines and boosters, the location of Binax and other tests is a frequent topic of conversation.

Maura Caldwell, the administrator of the page, sees questions on boosters as well and even posts seeking information for those new to vaccination.

"Multiple people posted looking for a first dose for someone and I'm so quick to jump on those posts and say, 'I will book it for you,'" Caldwell said. "Maybe somebody wouldn't see them this holiday, or maybe they know somebody who passed away or is in the hospital, or whatever it is, and they finally said, 'Let's do this.'"

Sara Vetter with the Minnesota Infectious Disease Laboratory said rapid tests, while convenient, have limitations.

"It can give a false sense of security that you aren't carrying around a virus," Vetter said.

A rapid antigen test is not as reliable as a PCR test, especially for those who are asymptomatic, Vetter said.

"It's best to use a rapid antigen test if you are symptomatic. And you want to take a test to find out if you're positive so that then you can isolate right away and inform your contacts," she said. "So in that case, it can give you a rapid answer so that you can take your own steps to protect yourself and others more quickly."

Vetter advises looking for PCR tests at your health care provider or a state testing site. Or search "Covid test near me" on the web.


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