The Ministry of Health and Wellness is advising that all antigen tests for detection of the coronavirus (COVID-19) must be ordered by a doctor.
Dr. Michelle Hamilton, director for National Laboratory Services at the Ministry, said the antigen test is similar to other medical tests conducted in laboratories, which must be sanctioned by a physician to whom the results are returned.
“So we are… asking persons not to just walk off the streets and say ‘I’m not feeling well, so I have come for a test’. You would need to go to your doctor or to the hospital and then the sample would be taken there and the result would be sent back there,” Hamilton advised.
She was speaking to journalists following a demonstration of the antigen testing procedure and protocols at the Spanish Town Hospital in St. Catherine on November 25.
The diagnostic test is administered on persons suspected of contracting COVID-19 and is used to look for proteins (antigens) in samples taken from the nose or throat.
Antigen tests, which comprise two optional procedures, are also called rapid tests or rapid diagnostic tests, as they return faster results than the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, usually within 30 minutes.
Spanish Town Hospital is one of nine public health facilities where the test is being administered, under a pilot that commenced on November 23.
The other locations are the Kingston Public Hospital, Bustamante Hospital for Children, and Comprehensive Health Clinic in the Corporate Area; Mandeville Regional Hospital, Manchester; Cornwall Regional Hospital, St. James; St. Ann’s Bay Regional Hospital, St. Ann; along with the National Public Health Laboratory and the National Influenza Centre, which are the mainstay testing sites.
The one-month pilot follows the training of more than 50 public health workers in administering the test.
Representatives of some 12 private laboratories, which will initially be allowed to perform the test, will observe activities under the pilot.
Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton indicated that the antigen test will be conducted on persons displaying COVID-19 symptoms “because that’s when you get the [greatest] accuracy and effectiveness”.
He pointed out, however, that if persons get a negative result, they will be recommended to do a PCR test.
Tufton noted that, while there are several interests seeking to introduce myriad tests for COVID-19 detection, including rapid 15-minute tests, “we have to be guided by the science and depend on our multilateral partners… Pan American Health Organization-World Health Organization (PAHO-WHO) to approve the tests that we sanction”.
“Right now, these antigen tests have been sanctioned and these are the tests that we have been trained in… and that we are now going to be administering,” he said.
Tufton further indicated that private labs designated to conduct the tests, following the pilot, are required to report the results to the ministry as part of the arrangements facilitating their participation.
“We need those because we are still in a critical planning stage to decide how we deal with COVID-19 in terms of how many [positive cases] are out there and how many tests are being done. That is all a part of the data-gathering required,” he said.