Dr. Summers recommends PCR tests vs. rapid tests, as COVID-19 cases rise in Western residence

Quick and easy - that’s what usually comes to mind when people think of rapid testing.

According to Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease specialist, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are good for diagnosing COVID-19 for individuals who are a high-risk contact or are experiencing symptoms. While the antigen rapid tests are often used for fast results, surveillance, and screening purposes.

Results for PCR tests typically come back anywhere between 24 hours to five days depending on a lab’s capacity, while rapid tests provide results within 15 minutes.

While the rapid tests may be helpful in some cases, Evans says they’re not always reliable.

“I can use it in a setting where it’s very unlikely that you have an infection, and if so, a negative test is reliable,” says Dr. Evans. “But once you start having symptoms, that rapid antigen test becomes a little bit less useful because a negative test might be falsely negative.”

Evans recommends people with symptoms book a PCR test, as a negative result from the laboratory will be able to determine that the patient has a different virus or has symptoms from another cause.“If you have a cough, a sore throat, and a runny nose and you do that rapid antigen test and it’s negative, that’s a problem because you might still have COVID. There’s probably still a 15 per cent chance that you do, so you might think I have a cold but it’s not COVID so I’m not going to worry about whom I’m coming into contact with.”

Western University provides rapid antigen tests for those with an exemption to their vaccination policy. On Saturday, Western University declared an outbreak at the Saugeen-Maitland Hall on campus.

Last week a student at the first-year residence who contracted COVID-19 used a rapid test to help determine their symptoms. According to London’s Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Alex Summers, as of Monday, there are eight cases linked to the outbreak at the Saugeen residence.

According to one of the university’s media representatives, all students on floors affected by the outbreak are being tested.

“I think the next few days will be critical for us to fully understand how many cases we will see,” said Summers during an interview with CTV News on Sunday.

As of Monday, Fanshawe College is also experiencing an outbreak including three people at the Merlin House residence.

For the most accurate results when it comes to testing for COVID-19, Summers recommends students and all members of the community visit a testing centre if they develop any related symptoms.

“Don’t just shrug it off as it’s a common cold, get tested and isolate and that’s what we want people to do.”