Some of the rapid at-home Covid tests Americans use can not accurately test for the new Omicron variant, Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious disease expert, said.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that his team currently investigating available rapid tests to determine which are not as accurate for the new strain.
He does note that PCR tests, often considered the ‘gold standard’ for Covid testing, as still accurate for Omicron, and that he believes a majority of rapid tests can accurately detect the variant.
While the prospect of inaccurate tests is worrying it would not affect official sequencing of the variant.
The U.S. only sequences PCR positive tests – which in itself is concerning to some officials – so there are no tests that would otherwise be included in official figures that are being missed.
The highly infectious variant being able to evade these tests is still concerning, though, as many use them before attending large events, and in some localities a recent negative test can serve as enough to avoid vaccine mandates.
People who may otherwise believe they are in a Covid free environment might be unknowingly exposed to the virus.
Dr Anthony Fauci (pictured) told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation on Thursday that NIAID is investigating whether certain rapid antigen tests are unable to detect the Omicron variant
Rapid Covid tests are often used by people hoping to test before large events, or by employers or schools to prevent spread in their facilities. If the tests can not find the new variant, it can quickly spread in environments that people believe are safe. Pictured: A woman in New York City, New York, collects a sample for a Covid tests on December 16
‘We’re getting preliminary information that not all of the diagnostic tests will be accurate with Omicron,’ Fauci said on Thursday.
‘Some, and many of the commonly used ones appear to pick up and detect omicron quite well, we’re hearing. We’re in the process of doing large screening to determine which of these antigen point of care, rapid tests, still maintain their accuracy of diagnosis.
‘But clearly there are some that don’t. We’re trying to find out those that don’t reflect an accurate result. And if we do, make sure that those tests are not used to diagnose Omicron.’
Rapid tests being unable to detect the Omicron variant is a worrying prospect.
Health experts often recommend for people to use rapid tests before attending events like family gatherings, weddings, concerts and more.
Some events also allow a person to show a recent negative test in lieu of proof of vaccine.
If people are using the rapid tests that can not find Omicron, though, then events where people may drop their guard assuming everything is safe could potentially be exposing everyone to the virus.
Now that the Omicron variant is circulating in the U.S., having been sequenced 319 times in 36 states and Washington D.C.
The real figure is likely higher, though, as the country only sequences a fraction of cases. Failures of these tests allow for Omicron to spread rapidly.
Many Covid vaccine mandates have testing opt-out options, for example, that allow for a person to continue working a job in-person or taking part in other activities as long as they test negative.
Schools have also put these measures in place as an extra layer of protection.
There programs often use rapid response antigen tests. If a person positive with Omicron goes undetected, they could spread the highly transmissible, vaccine resistant, strain, quickly in a population that believes they are safe from the virus.
Nearly every aspect of rapid testing in America has been a problem at some point during the pandemic.
Unlike many other countries, people in the U.S. do not have regular access to rapid tests. They are in short supply and can be very expensive if used every day.
Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the idea of the U.S. government sending people tests in their homes to help fill some testing gaps, and was widely criticized for it.
The Food and Drug Administration, whose responsible for authorizing the tests so they can be used by consumers, has not helped either.
Last month, it was reported that the agency is currently sitting on more than 3,000 applications for approval for rapid at-home tests.
Its failure to approve them has limited the supply and options available the Americans.
When people can access at-home, rapid, testing, they often do not report their positive cases to health officials. This means that thousands of Covid cases may not be included in official counts.
Some Americans have gone to hospitals and other health centers to access these tests, that are supposed to be free when taken in those environments.
There are reports that some have been hit with bills totaling in the thousands for the supposed-free tests, as the facility will charge them with ancillary fees as well.
Now, the White House is warning test manufacturers that there will be a surge in demand for the tests in the near future, and officials fear there will a shortage of all kinds of tests.