As rapid tests are in high demand, results vs. PCR might vary by type

  • There's a Digger story about this -- can you upload the photo and I'll attach it later? Jeff Brown of VTrans hands out a list of locations in the state where free antigen tests to detect COVID-19 are being distributed in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. Vermont started giving the tests away in multiple locations throughout the state. The 1,700 tests available in White River Junction on Thursday were gone by 8:30 a.m., a half hour after they started. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/23/2021 9:35:02 PM
Modified: 12/23/2021 9:51:26 PM

LEBANON — In an effort to quickly identify cases of COVID-19 to prevent its spread during an ongoing winter surge, state and federal health officials are working to distribute rapid tests.

But, for now at least, supplies are tight. By 10 a.m. on Thursday, most of the 25,000 rapid tests that had been allocated to the Vermont distribution sites for the day had already been picked up, according to the Department of Health. The state plans to release more tests in the coming days for a total of 96,000 to be distributed by the end of the year.

“The Scott Administration is continuing work to acquire more rapid antigen tests for broad distribution, but like other states, we are constrained by the realities of the supply at the federal level,” the Department of Health said in a Thursday news release.

In Vermont, people can visit distribution sites to pick up a limited number of tests over the course of the next week, while in New Hampshire, residents can order tests online while supplies last. The Biden Administration has announced plans to distribute half a billion such tests starting next month.

New Hampshire on Thursday opened up a second round of sign ups for residents to order rapid tests. This round is slated to distribute 750,000 tests to about 180,000 households and is open to those who did not get tests in a previous round that distributed 1 million of them.

But four kits of two tests each don’t go very far, Anne Sosin, a policy fellow and public health expert at Dartmouth College, said earlier this month. Officials “should be talking about 40,” she said.

The Vermont distribution sites are limiting people to two kits per household, according to the Department of Health’s website.

The short turnaround time of the rapid tests allows those who receive a positive result to begin isolation immediately, said Dr. Jose Mercado, a hospitalist and the associate hospital epidemiologist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

But he urged those with symptoms who get a negative result to seek out the “gold standard” PCR test, or to repeat the rapid test serially, while taking other precautions.

“If you have symptoms, even if you tested negative, don’t heavily rely on that negative test,” Mercado warned.

Dr. Benjamin Chan, New Hampshire’s state epidemiologist, said during a Wednesday news conference that the rapid tests are about 70% accurate.

Gov. Chris Sununu, during the news conference, acknowledged that the PCR tests are more accurate than the rapid tests and urged those with symptoms who test negative to seek a PCR test, but he said the rapid tests still have a role to play.

“They’re still good tests to have, especially if you’re symptomatic and positive,” he said.

Mercado said that using the rapid tests serially — more than once over a period of time — can help to avoid false negative results. The website of the Say Yes! COVID Test program, which is the program New Hampshire is using to distribute the tests, recommends that those without symptoms use rapid tests twice a week at least one day apart if they’ve been in close contact with a person with COVID-19. That program uses Quidel QuickVue tests.

Some Vermont schools also are relying on rapid tests as part of a “test-to-stay” protocol that tests students who are close contacts of a positive case, but don’t have symptoms of the disease. The tests are administered at the beginning of the school day during what otherwise would be a quarantine period for the student. The tests also are used in schools when students develop symptoms during the school day.

“Test to Stay, and response testing more generally, is going very well, keeping kids in school while lowering risk of virus spread,” said Katie Warchut, a spokeswoman at the Vermont Department of Health.

Mercado encouraged the use of the tests in conjunction with other efforts to mitigate transmission of the virus. He urged those who are not yet vaccinated against COVID-19 to avoid gathering over the holidays. For those who are vaccinated and boosted, he encouraged people to wear masks while indoors with people from outside their household. When masks can’t be worn, he encouraged physical distancing. Amid this latest surge of COVID-19 infections, Mercado urged everyone to return to their small social “bubbles” by “not attending lots and lots of parties throughout the next few weeks.”

New Hampshire residents can order rapid tests online at: More information about the Vermont sites distributing rapid tests in the coming days is online at:

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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