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Everything you need to know about rapid COVID-19 testing in Pennsylvania

Most area hospitals only administer rapid tests to patients who are admitted. Other healthcare facilities administer tests that produce results within a few days.

MOUNT JOY, Pa. — Traci Weaver, of Mount Joy, just wanted to know if her symptoms were related to COVID-19. Since she didn’t know, she was treated in a tent outside of Hershey Medical Center’s emergency department.

In March, the hospital began triaging patients with coronavirus symptoms to an outdoor tent for health screenings to mitigate the spread of the virus. To Weaver, the conditions were less than ideal for someone who wasn’t sure whether she had the virus or not.

“You have everything from your bloodwork drawn, to an X-ray, to an EKG all done behind a little screen,” explained Weaver. “Like, that’s really not private and you’re in this drafty tent, which it just really ridiculous. All of this could be avoided if you could just get a rapid test when you walk in that door.”

Weaver said she waited two hours in the tent until she was allowed inside a hospital room for further testing. She was discharged and ultimately, her test results came back negative.

“I just think it’s very, very unfair that NFL players who are doing nonessential business, do what they want, get a rapid test,” Weaver explained. “But yet, you have a sick person who just wants to know!”

Many people like Weaver are wondering why it is so difficult to find a rapid test for COVID-19 in Pennsylvania.

FOX43 reached out to many area hospitals and urgent care centers with regards to rapid testing. Here are their responses.

Hershey Medical Center

Patients who present to the Hershey Medical Center Emergency Department with COVID-19 symptoms, but will likely be discharged, are given a swab that is sent out for testing. Patients who will be admitted are given a test that is processed within a few hours.

UPMC Pinnacle

UPMC hospitals use the PCR test. Kelly McCall, Public Relations Director for UPMC Pinnacle, said, "We do have limited in-house testing capabilities that provide results within a few hours. We use these for our hospitalized patients. For patients not being hospitalized and patients whose specimen is collected in one of our collection sites, the specimen is sent to Quest Laboratories. We do not currently offer antigen testing. We do offer antibody testing for specific situations where that information would be clinically relevant."

Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine has several testing options, including a rapid test. A rapid test may be used after a patient is admitted at the emergency department with symptoms, once the flu or other respiratory illnesses are ruled out.

Patient First

Virus Testing is available at designated Patient First testing centers and is by appointment only.  However, Patient First does not provide rapid testing.  The test that is offered is the RT-PCR (Reverse Transcriptase – Polymerase Chain Reaction) molecular diagnostic test. The test sample is collected at Patient First and is sent to a reference lab for testing. Patient First also offers antibody testing.

Rite Aid

Rite Aid does not offer rapid testing. Through its partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Rite Aid's drive-through testing sites utilize self-swab nasal tests overseen by Rite Aid pharmacists.  Rite Aid's COVID-19 nasal tests are available for all adults, regardless if they are experiencing virus symptoms, in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance. At all testing locations, patients are required to provide government issued identification, be at least 18 years old and need to pre-register online at www.riteaid.com in order to schedule a time slot for testing.

CVS Pharmacy

There are 132 CVS Pharmacies in Pennsylvania that offer self-swab tests. The majority of test results are available within 2-3 days, although during times of peak demand, results may be delayed based on lab performance.

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WellSpan Health, Concentra Occupational Health, Holy Spirit Hospital and Chambersburg Hospital did not respond to our requests about rapid COVID-19 testing.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health did obtain some antigen, rapid tests from the federal government. They were distributed to Bradford, Centre, Lebanon, Montour, Northumberland, Schuylkill and Snyder counties.

The antigen test kits are being sent to facilities with a CLIA certification. These are facilities that have met the requirements set forth by the federal government under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments protocols.

“The facilities that we are sending these kits to, if they have their certification, include long-term care facilities, personal care homes, assisting living and intermediate care facilities, higher education institutions, drug and alcohol and behavioral health treatment centers, state and county correctional facilities, and health care providers including FQHCs, urgent care centers, pharmacies and primary care doctors,” Nate Wardle said, press secretary for the Department of Health.

Abbott, the maker of the BINAX Now rapid antigen test cards, is reporting 97.1% sensitivity and 98.5% specificity for these tests. However, PCR tests are the gold standard for testing and are generally considered the most accurate in terms of testing, a department spokesperson confirmed.  

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