Could rapid testing prevent spread of coronavirus at RNC?

Regional medical director for Millennium Physician Group touts rapid tests

One of the main concerns about the Republican National Convention is it could spread the coronavirus more quickly here in the River City.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Millennium Physician Group opened a rapid testing site for patients and the public Wednesday in Jacksonville to test for the novel coronavirus.

The test is called The Sofia SARS Antigen FIA test. Dr. Oscar Rodas, regional medical director for Millennium Physician Group in Northeast Florida, explained in layman’s terms how the test works.

“What the test does is it processes the sample and then you insert it into a machine. The machine runs the test and it detects whether there is a certain protein present, which is usually found in the covering of the virus,” he said. “It tests for an antigen that is in all viruses and all living organisms. Viruses and bacteria have a covering that protects them, keeps them alive, and if you can identify some of those proteins, then you can be able to conclude that that virus or bacteria is in the person’s body, and therefore the test is positive.”

To receive this testing, you must schedule a Telehealth visit with any of the 10 offices in Northeast Florida. It includes locations in St. Johns, Clay, Nassau and Baker counties. If you’re approved, patients will be sent to the location on Atlantic Boulevard in Jacksonville for its drive-thru testing site.

The sample is collected through a nasal swab (nasopharyngeal swab) and then placed in a machine with a solution that identifies a protein found on the lining of the virus.

The results take about 15 minutes. The tests are considered highly accurate, showing an accuracy rate or 93.8%. Another more sensitive test is considered to be nearly 100% accurate.

The rapid tests were approved on an emergency basis by the FDA, which means the tests themselves weren’t tested to the extent it would be under normal circumstances.

Rodas noted one big issue with rapid testing is that the tests cannot detect coronavirus in the body until 2-5 days after infection.

“The virus has to invade your body, then it has to begin to reproduce. And once it reproduces, then it gets to a certain amount that it could be tested for. Until that amount that threshold amount is reached, you can do all the testing in the world you want and you can never detect it,” he said. “And so it makes no sense if you’re exposed today to be tested today or tomorrow.”

Rodas said Millennium Physician Group has not been contacted by the Republican National Convention for help with testing, but added that the clinic would be more than willing if asked.

“I believe we need to let the providers and the physicians have a little bit more input into the testing,” Rodas said.

Rodas said that while preventing COVID-19 positive patients from attending the RNC could help prevent the spread of infection, one issue is the size of the event.

RELATED: Lawsuit argues GOP Convention will be a ‘nuisance injurious’ to the welfare of Jacksonville

If RNC organizers allow the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena to be filled to capacity and test attendees every day, about 60,000 tests will be used. Rodas said that would further complicate an already strained supply issue.

“We should not just be testing everyone. We’re not at that point where we can afford to do that, because there’s not enough testing. For example, if we’re doing an excess of 150,000 tests and we get a 5-7% positive rate, that’s about 150,000 tests that did not need to be done,” Rodas said.

If you’re a patient seeking rapid testing, insurance will cover the cost of the test in most cases. Self-pay for the test is $100. Rodas said it’s an alternative to the traditional test because many labs are backed up for more than a week.

“The laboratories are telling us that it’s now 7 to 12 days just to get results because they can’t process them fast enough. They don’t have the manpower to run the tests for up to 10 to 14 days.”

About the Author: