Rapid tests could help reactivate some social activities, say experts

A study welcomed by health department states that antigen tests identify people with more viral load and transmission capacity

A medical professional performing an antigen test in Madrid in late September 2020 (by Comunidad de Madrid)
A medical professional performing an antigen test in Madrid in late September 2020 (by Comunidad de Madrid) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

November 9, 2020 02:15 PM

Antigen rapid tests could help reactivate some social activities if used massively, have recently said several experts in Catalonia.

The government has already bought a million such tests and they are being distributed in health centers to help take pressure off hospitals and labs dealing with PCR tests. They are also used in schools and care homes.

The public health secretary, Josep Maria Argimon, said on Sunday in an article on 'La Vanguardia' daily that there is "a way to go" to extend the uses of such tests.

Specifically, he said that they could be used in areas with a high impact of the pandemic, and foresaw "a number of other uses which would enable several aspects of everyday life to be recovered."

In his article, Argimon welcomed a study led by top researcher Oriol Mitjà which proves that a mass use of antigen tests with nasal smear – and not necessarily nasopharyngeal secretions – could enable people to restart activities such as going to bars, leisure activities like going to theaters or football stadiums and joining Christmas meals with the whole family.

More effective for people with symptoms

Indeed, Mitjà vows for distributing antigen tests to companies and pharmacies, taking into account that they are much cheaper than PCR tests – they cost €20, while PCR can cost up to €120 –. Authorities have not made any decision on the matter yet.

The result of rapid tests is usually known in 15 minutes, and they are especially effective in people with a condition compatible with Covid-19 and during the first five days of symptoms.

The tests identify in particular those with more viral load and transmission capacity. Yet, some experts are wary about the fact that some asymptomatic people would not be noticed by rapid tests. 

Oriol Mitjà believes those that go unnoticed are not contagious and downplayed the fact that antigen tests cannot spot all positives.

Logistics problems

Another top Catalan epidemiologist, Hospital Clínic's Antoni Trilla, also greenlights the use of antigen tests, but also warns of their "limitations."

On Sunday on Tv3 station, he said that while "they can be a clear tool to control the pandemic," every case self-diagnosed should be informed to the public health department.

Other logistic problems Trilla sees is guaranteeing that everyone has access to them and that everyone interprets  their results correctly.

"Little by little we can see how to use them" outside centers with health assistance, he said, confirming that they work.

According to Trilla, the antigen tests are easy to use and could be performed in pharmacies.