Though Maine’s overall testing capacity is well above the national average, with most test results coming back within 48 hours, a new partnership with Walgreen’s pharmacies will beef up the state’s limited rapid testing capabilities and produce results within 15 minutes.

Maine signed a partnership with Walgreens to stock the rapid antigen COVID-19 tests that are manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, an Illinois-based company with a lab and manufacturing plant in Scarborough and manufacturing plant in Westbrook.

State public health officials say the tests will be particularly useful in getting health care workers, teachers, corrections officers, first responders and other essential workers back on the job if they test negative after being exposed to the virus.

Here’s a look at what the tests mean for Mainers.

What is an antigen test?

An antigen test looks for the protein in the novel coronavirus, as opposed to PCR tests, which detect the virus’s genetic material. The PCR – or polymerase chain reaction – tests are extremely accurate but take time to produce results – in Maine usually within 24 to 48 hours.

The accuracy of the antigen tests is still being studied, but results can be produced in about 15 minutes. Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said from what he’s seen of the antigen tests coming to Maine, a negative result is reliable, but a positive may be a false positive. So anyone who tests positive from an antigen test is recommended to receive a follow-up test from a PCR test.

Where can I find them, and when get I get a rapid test?

They will be available at 65 Walgreens locations throughout Maine as a drive-thru service starting sometime in November. The state says it will announce more details on where and when the tests will be available. Maine will receive a total of 400,000 of the tests by the end of 2020, with 300,000 to be at Walgreens. It is expected more tests will be distributed in 2021.

How will the tests be administered?

Patients will “self-swab” their nasal cavity under the supervision of a pharmacy employee. The nasal swabs are less invasive than the deep nasal swab tests in use by what up until now has been the more common COVID-19 PCR molecular tests.

How much do they cost?

The tests will be free of charge.

Do I need a doctor’s note?

No, under Maine’s standing order, anyone can get a test if they believe they have been exposed to the virus. The Maine CDC recommends that people do not get tested just for “peace of mind,” but only if they believe that they have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms. But no one will be turned away, supplies permitting.

 


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