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Rapid COVID Tests Arrive In N.H.; State Encourages Students To Get Tested

Dan Tuohy

With hundreds of thousands of rapid COVID-19 antigen testing supplies slated to arrive in the coming months, the state says it will now include those results in its daily coronavirus testing figures.

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Previously, anyone who tested positive through a rapid antigen test was treated as a probable case who would then receive a PCR screening for conclusive results, according to state health officials.

PCR, or polymerase chain reaction tests, scan samples for genetic material, while antigen tests are used to detect certain proteins on the surface of the virus. Both tests are typically administered through nasal or throat swabs. While PCR test results could take days or even longer to analyze, rapid antigen test results are generally available within 15 minutes. According to the FDA, both tests are considered “highly accurate” however the agency says negative tests may still need to be confirmed.

“We’ve often done an antigen based test and then followed that up with a PCR test,” Lori Shibinette, commissioner for the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, said last week. “Because of the widespread distribution of the antigen based test, we are now going to be considering those antigen positives a positive in our system.”

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The state says through early October, it recorded 126 positive antigen tests, which will now be counted toward the state’s official number of confirmed cases. That figure now stands at more than 8,600.

The federal government is expected to provide a total of 400,000 Abbott BinaxNOW Rapid Antigen tests to the state by the end of the year.

Gov. Chris Sununu said the rapid tests should help students who may show symptoms of illness determine if it is COVID-19, possibly speeding up a return to school. 

“Have the results in about 15 minutes, and hopefully it comes up negative, and you are kind of back on track for that student to get back into the school system,” Sununu told reporters last week.  

According to information on the state’s website, antigen tests are being administered at multiple Convenient MD and ClearChoice MD urgent care facilities. Hospitals and other providers continue to offer PCR tests. 

With the increase in testing capabilities, New Hampshire is seeing a corresponding rise in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. As of October 3, the seven-day average of positive cases reached 53, compared to mid-August when the seven-day average bottomed out at 17 positive cases. 

The number of fatalities from the coronavirus has fallen precipitously since the spring. In May, the state reported 173 deaths, including 19 in a single day. During September, the state reported just 7 fatalities from the virus. 

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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