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Experts say get tested if symptomatic

Questions answered on COVID-19 testing for vaccinated people

As the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 has spread, vaccinated people have been asking how necessary it is to get tested if they experience less-than-definitive COVID-19 symptoms — and if testing is needed, how best to do it.

Should a vaccinated person seek a test if they get a bit of a sore throat, a cough or runny nose? Is a rapid antigen home test kit OK? Is a rapid test administered by a medical professional better? Is a PCR test better yet? Should one quarantine while awaiting test results?

Experts questioned by the Mirror provided answers in recent days.

“If someone has symptoms consistent with COVID, they should be tested no matter their vaccination status,” said Dr. David Burwell, chief quality officer for UPMC’s Altoona, Bedford, Somerset and Western Maryland hospitals, in an email. “People who are vaccinated can get COVID-19 and become ill” — even if they’re less likely to require medical care or die, he added.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not only that fully vaccinated people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms get tested, but that fully vaccinated people who’ve come in close contact with someone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 should get tested three to five days after exposure — and wear a mask in public indoor spaces 14 days or until a negative test result, according to Dr. Nancie Fitch, area medical director for MedExpress, and state Department of Health spokeswoman Maggi Barton via emails.

People who come into contact with anyone suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 should take such precautions even if they don’t have symptoms themselves, Barton wrote.

And if someone gets a positive test result, they should isolate for 10 days, Fitch and Barton wrote.

Fully vaccinated people should mask in high COVID-19 transmission areas when in crowded indoor settings or in close contact with people not fully vaccinated, Barton added.

COVID-19 transmission is high in our area, Burwell said.

COVID-19 symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC. “This list does not include all possible symptoms,” the CDC states.

Rapid antigen testing is most accurate on “younger individuals when they are symptomatic,” Burwell wrote. “PCR testing is more sensitive and specific and thus most clinically reliable.”

“PCR remains the gold standard,” Barton wrote.

Rapid testing is convenient for travel or return to work or school, while PCR results take two or three days, according to Fitch, who said both kinds of tests, as administered by MedExpress, “provide a high level of accuracy.”

People contemplating at-home testing ought to discuss it with their primary care doctors, Fitch said.

More people are being tested in Pennsylvania now than over the summer, according to Barton.

The state recently averaged 35,000 PCR results and 19,000 antigen test results per day over a 30-day period, Barton wrote.

That’s an increase of 84 percent for PCR tests and 130 percent for rapid tests, compared to June, according to information Barton provided.

The demand for testing is increasing in the Altoona area, according to Fitch. A high number of patients are also coming in with complaints of “upper respiratory conditions” like allergies and colds, Fitch wrote.

Those being tested for COVID-19 include both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients.

One recent morning, the parking lot of the Altoona MedExpress was full to overflowing, with additional cars parked along the edge of a commercial lot next door.

The same day several stores reported being sold out of rapid home test kits.

Nationally, test subjects are skewing younger, Burwell said.

While the delta variant, coupled with relaxed mitigations, has made it more likely than previously for vaccinated people to become infected with COVID-19, vaccination still offers strong protection, according to a recent report from the state Health Department.

Since January in Pennsylvania people not fully vaccinated for COVID-19 accounted for, 94 percent of those testing positive, 95 percent of those hospitalized with COVID-19 and 97 percent of those who died from the virus, according to the report.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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