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Ask Dr. Halverson: Update on COVID-19 home testing kits and vaccines

web 4 17 Halverson photo
By Dr. Jim Halverson
With the recent increase in coronavirus cases, the need for convenient and accurate tests for this virus that give results rapidly has never been more important.
Here is what you should understand about the home tests before you decide to obtain one.

 

1. Make sure the test is FDA approved.
Almost all FDA-approved home tests require a doctor’s approval, which may be obtained through the company’s website by communicating with one of its physicians or filling out an online questionnaire. However, a home test by Ellume and Labcorp’s Pixel-COVID-19 home collection kit were just FDA approved and do not require a physician’s approval. Information about who is eligible for these tests is available on their websites.

 

2. Know how to properly collect the specimen.
The kit you obtain should give clear instructions on how to do this. It is generally easy to do properly. If the samples are taken accurately, results should be on par with having them taken by medical personnel.

 

3. Have a good understanding of what the result you get means.
A negative result means it is very likely that you did not have detectable amounts of the coronavirus at the time you took the test. If you are concerned about a possible recent exposure, please review the current Center for Disease Control guidelines about the timing of when to test after that exposure. You must quarantine until you have fulfilled those requirements even if your test is negative.
Currently, all tests, except for the Lucira Health test kit, require your sample to be sent out to a laboratory for results. Turnaround times are generally three to five days and you are notified of results by text or email. Until recently, the turnaround times for test sites in Ventura County have been one to two days, but they have been increasing with increased testing and occasional closures due to high winds.
The FDA-approved Lucira Health test, which has users collect a specimen through a nasal swab and then drop it in a vial, gives results within 30 minutes. It has not been evaluated for use by people without symptoms and it requires a physician’s prescription. I went to the Lucira Health website Dec. 13.  It indicated that you could sign up to get updates on product availability, but I was not able to find a way to order one at that time. It is an antigen test and its website says it is 94% accurate if positive (compared to laboratory-done molecular tests) and 98% accurate if negative. If you have questions about the result, you get with this test, you should consult with a medical professional.
At-home testing will play an increasingly important role in controlling the pandemic as more tests are FDA approved and they become easier to obtain. The Biden administration plans to increase their availability as part of its COVID-19 strategic plan. Continue to follow your trusted COVID-19 information sites for updates.

Availability for Ojai Valley
Ventura County Public Health obtained its first shipment of 6,825 Pfizer vaccines this week. A total of 975 vaccines were sent to each of the six major hospitals in the county (including Community Memorial Health System, which includes Ventura Community and our Ojai Valley Community Hospital). According to our chief administrative officer for Ojai, Haady Lashkari, our hospital received more than 300 of those vaccines on Dec. 16. These are first-dose vaccines and will be prioritized to our hospital workers and health care providers who are at greatest risk for exposure to the coronavirus. Additional doses should continue to be received at Ojai Hospital weekly and the amount of vaccines available will increase as the Moderna vaccine is approved in the very near future. Hopefully, by early March, our highest-risk groups (health care providers, emergency personnel, hospital staff, essential workers and nursing home residents and staff) will have received both doses of the vaccine and Ventura County will be providing oversight of who is then eligible to obtain the vaccine and where it can be obtained.
 The most up-to-date information regarding vaccine availability is on the Ventura County Public Health website www.venturacountyrecovers.org. Its vaccine information site states: “We anticipate that the general public will be offered the vaccine in early spring of 2021 at drive-through locations and walk-up clinics, in a manner current to the COVID-19 testing site operations.” There is also a link to the CDC recommendations on COVID-19 vaccine available on the county vaccine website, which gives extensive and accurate information about the safety, side effects and effectiveness of the vaccines. I recommend you visit this site to learn much more about the vaccines that will soon be available to all of us.
We still have difficult months ahead of us. The vaccines that we will soon have the opportunity to receive will significantly reduce and hopefully end the impact that the novel coronavirus is having on all of us. 
Stay hopeful, stay well informed, stay committed, stay safe and stay well.

 

— Dr. Jim Halverson is a longtime Ojai physician who writes a weekly column for the Ojai Valley News.