Even as state and Allen County health officials announced they are restricting rapid tests for COVID-19 to certain patients, an Indiana company announced Tuesday it potentially has more than a million tests for sale to businesses.
On Tuesday, the Allen County Health Department's testing site at 5750 Falls Drive in Fort Wayne began limiting the use of rapid antigen tests to those 18 and younger and those 50 and older with COVID-19 symptoms.
The change is being made to comply with state health department guidelines based on a national shortage of the tests amid high demand from a virus surge, county health department officials said.
The state's new policy “is designed to help ensure that students can stay in school and that Hoosiers who are most likely to need monoclonal antibody (treatments) are identified within the prescribed window in which they can be administered,” state health officials said in a statement.
Indiana health officials last week said the state was facing a severe shortage of rapid tests. Indiana typically uses about 50,000 of the rapid tests in a week but was guaranteed only 11,000 tests, they said.
However, neither the state nor the county is limiting PCR tests, which typically provide results in two to three days. Rapid tests, also known as antigen tests, can provide results in about 15 minutes.
The two kinds of tests look for different components of the virus. PCR tests, or polymerase chain reaction tests, detect genetic material from the COVID-19 virus and are considered “the gold standard” for testing. Rapid tests, or antigen tests, look for protein fragments specific to the virus.
President Joe Biden last month promised to make 500 million rapid tests available for free for people to use at home, but it may take several weeks for them to be shipped.
Rapid tests also have been sold as nonprescription items through pharmacies. But state officials last week said the take-home rapid tests are hard to find.
“While it's disappointing to be asked to scale back such an important service to our community, we are seeing our supplies dwindle without replacement,” said Mindy Waldron, deputy administrator of the Allen County Department of Health.
However, Diversified Marketing Strategies of Crown Point said it has rapid tests available in bulk for sale to companies throughout Indiana and the Midwest that want to test employees.
Offered are On/Go Rapid COVID-19 Self Tests, which have a mobile app employers can use to identify employees and their close contacts, Andrea Pearman, company president, said in a news release.
“Businesses can save a lot of time and money by testing in-house. They'll get results quicker, more conveniently, and they'll change hours-long absences into just a 15-minute test,” she said.
Pearman's company also has access to other brands of tests it can acquire through contacts made when it was marketing personal protection equipment at the beginning of the pandemic, said Nick Dmitrovich, a company spokesman.
All the tests are approved by the federal Food & Drug Administration and come from American sources, he added, noting the company would be willing to work on supplying state health officials.
The cost of the tests is about the same as the price in drugstores – about $20 to $25 for a pack of two.
Allen County health officials said they are not limiting PCR tests. PCR tests are often advised to confirm a rapid-test result. The limits on rapid testing “will allow the Department of Health to conserve some resources to provide rapid tests to those who need one,” Waldron said.
Allen County has operated several free testing sites since Oct. 1, 2020. More than 77,000 Allen County residents have so far tested positive for COVID-19 – about 41,000 through PCR testing and 36,000 through rapid testing.
The Falls Drive clinic is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointments can be made at www.allencountyhealth.com/get-tested/covid-19-testing/ and www.coronavirus.in.gov/covid-19-testing-information/.
There also are 29 testing sites in Allen County, many of them at pharmacies. It was unclear Tuesday whether any had rapid tests available.
Allen County on Tuesday reported 548 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 deaths, bringing the county's totals to 77,688 cases and 967 deaths. The county reported 651 new cases Friday and 636 on Thursday, topping the previous high of 613 reported Nov. 14, 2020.
The state on Tuesday reported 8,553 new cases and 172 confirmed new deaths between Dec. 19 and Jan. 3, plus 651 deaths based on symptoms in patients without a positive test. Totals cases are 1,286,590, with 18,605 deaths.
The state's seven-day positivity rate climbed to 20.5% – meaning one in every five tests administered came back positive. Allen County's positivity rate Tuesday was 18.4%.