COVID-19 testing helps protect us during pandemic

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Testing remains an important tool for slowing the pandemic in our community. Testing identifies people with COVID-19 infection so they can be advised how to care for their health and avoid infecting others. With testing, we can more quickly identify contacts of positive patients and quarantine them to lessen spread of the virus.

People with symptoms of COVID-19 should be tested. 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.

Some healthcare workers and older adults living in care centers are starting to receive safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines. Public health officials expect it will be months before enough vaccine is available to protect everyone. We need to continue to test and identify people who are COVID-19 positive and continue with contact tracing.

In Yellowstone County, two types of tests are being used to diagnose this viral disease: PCR tests and rapid antigen tests.

• The “gold standard” is a PCR or molecular test that detects the presence of the virus. This test may be collected in a provider office or at a testing site, and will be sent to a lab for processing. At the RiverStone Health community testing site, the average return time on PCR tests from the state lab is 72 hours, but it can take five to seven days.

• Rapid antigen tests detect the presence of certain proteins on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. Results can be available in 15 minutes. This test is most sensitive within the first seven days after the patient develops symptoms.

Both tests are available at no charge to community members at the RiverStone Health drive-through testing site, 2173 Overland Ave. Our hours recently expanded. The site now is open 8:30 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. weekdays for testing on first-come, first-served basis for up to 210 people daily.

Tests are available for adults and children age 5 and older.

We now offer the rapid test to anyone who wants it, regardless of whether they have symptoms of COVID-19. People can be infected with this virus without showing symptoms.

At the testing site, both tests require the person being tested to twirl a swab the size of a Q-Tip about an inch inside one nostril and then the other for a few seconds.

For the Binax rapid test, the swab is then placed in a testing card. Those waiting for rapid test results will be directed to a designated parking area where a RiverStone Health staff member will inform them of their results in about 20 minutes.

People with symptoms of COVID-19 who test negative on the rapid test will then be given the PCR test to confirm the rapid test result.

More information on COVID-19 is available online at covid.riverstonehealth.org.

Breann Streck, RN, BSN, senior director of clinical operations at RiverStone Health, can be reached at 406-247-3266.