COLORADO SPRINGS — As COVID-19 vaccinations continue locally and across the state, getting tested when you're symptomatic for COVID will remain an important part of tracking the virus and reducing spread.
While vaccines, infection rates and rising cases here in southern Colorado among younger people have been the big news in recent weeks, testing hasn’t been talked about as much. If you do find yourself needing a COVID test these days, you should know that at UCHealth, it's not the brain-tickling nasal swab it used to be. The health system now offers a less-invasive swab to test for the virus.
Rob Welch is the director of laboratory services for UCHealth Memorial and oversees COVID-19 testing. Rob says: “The key to getting a good test is you have to have some virus on the swab in order for it to be detected.”
When the pandemic first broke out, going deep into the nasal cavity was the best bet to effectively gather a sample. “Traditionally, the gold standard for any kind of viral respiratory test is a nasopharyngeal swab that goes really deep back in the nasal passage. As you can imagine, that has not been extremely popular with folks.”
Like many things with COVID, Rob says time has allowed them to learn about effective testing methods. “It's allowed us to make some changes that are more patient-friendly. We have started doing nasal swabs, which is just the lower nasal area - versus going really deep back in there. What allowed us to do that was a study we did, where we looked at 100 patients, and took both kinds of samples (nasopharyngeal and nasal) and we saw they had very good correlation, so we made the switch.”
And while there are other testing methods out there for COVID-19, Rob says it was experience that also led them to the lower nasal swab test change. “We looked at a lot of these different things. We looked at the saliva test that a lot of people have asked us about. We did do some studies on saliva testing; it didn't show that it had as good of an efficacy as either the lower nasal or the nasopharyngeal swab. It was really cumbersome to collect, it took a lot of time because you actually have to drool into a cup, and it got messy when people were coming through drive-through locations. The lower nasal swab had the greatest correlation to the gold standard so that's what we went with. We felt like it’s fast, painless and overall gives us a really good result.”
As we continue to work toward herd immunity, Rob says testing will remain an important tool in protecting those who remain at high risk because of other health factors. “We want folks to know we are not out of the woods on this just yet. We are still seeing a lot of positivity in the community. It's really important to get tested (if needed) and make sure that you're still quarantining and social distancing and taking care of yourself.”
In our next story, we'll talk about the rising demand for testing, and the age groups that are testing positive and needing to be hospitalized for COVID-19 here in southern Colorado.
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