11 Investigates self-swab COVID-19 test kits: How reliable are they?

11 Investigates self-swab COVID-19 test kits: How reliable are they?

PITTSBURGH — One of the largest drug store chains in the country based here in Pennsylvania has been conducting self-swab testing for several months now, and the company said it is proving to be just as reliable as those deep probing nasopharyngeal tests administered by health professionals.

“We’re seeing them as reliable as what the swabs were that were going in the back of the nasal all the way up the nasopharyngeal. We get really good results back from it. Our lab does a good job to validate that as they come out as well,” said Chris Altman, clinical manager for Rite Aid.

Have questions about the spread of the coronavirus? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak. CLICK HERE for more.

Content Continues Below

But early on in the pandemic, there were questions about the self-swab tests. And health professionals suggested the deep nasopharyngeal test administered by physicians and nurses.

"The self-tests are slightly less accurate than the health professional conducted tests. Generally speaking, we recommend that you go to one of our sites where a health professional can administer the test or go to your own private physician’s office where they can do it, " said a health official in San Antonio, Texas.

In an email, the official told Target 11 that things change quickly in a pandemic.

Recent studies now suggest that the self-swab tests are just as good as the nasopharyngeal.

“Initially we thought you had to have a deep nasopharyngeal sample but more recent studies have actually shown that self-administered nasal samples fromrm the mid part of the nose are actually very accurate, up to 90% accurate,” said Dr. Marc Itskowitz, an internal medicine physician at AHN.

The clinical manager of Rite Aid said there are many advantages to the self-swab.

“Letting the patient do it themselves enables our pharmacists No. 1 protect themselves but No. 2, we can do a lot more patients because we’re not circulating through all that protective equipment every time someone new comes through, so we can actually get people through a lot more quickly and efficiently with just the self-swab,” said Altman, who said the chain is doing about 8,000 tests per day.

“We have some sites that are in more rural areas, so areas that just don’t have, we put it there just to support the population that was there. But realistically, to get 50 people in day after day it’s probably not enough people to support that, but particularly in our metro areas we are at that capacity every day,”Altman said.

Altman said Rite Aid is able to have test results back in less than a week.

“We’re doing everything we can so that as soon as that swab is taken we get it out to the lab as fast as we can because that’s sometimes the rate limiting step right just getting that sample that was collected from our Rite Aid store to the lab,” Altman said.

In July, Altman said the lab responsible for all of the tests averaged a turnaround time of less than a week.

“They’ve committed substantial resources specifically to our testing program to make sure we get the results out as fast as we can. The month of July we saw about on average a four-day turnaround for our results to come back,” Altman said.

And the experts all agree that a faster turnaround time will help with contact tracing and ultimately to control the spread of the virus.

The Food and Drug Administration recently issued an emergency use authorization for a saliva test developed at Yale University. It costs less and it’s less invasive. Some NBA players have been participating in a trial study.

Altman is aware of the new tests.

“We’re working closely with our lab, because they’re the ones who have to validate the saliva testing to it’s definitely out there on the market. I don’t know really to what degree people are electing to go down the path,” said Altman.

While the drug store chain has been focused on the coronavirus for the past six months, Rite Aid’s CEO recently issued a warning with the combination of coronavirus and the seasonal flu this fall, she said the health situation could be worrying...adding that they expect a significant surge in the need for flu shots.

Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Let us help you! Contact 11 Investigates HERE or email 11investigates@wpxi.com.

Pitt researchers report promising new finding in fight against COVID-19