Mark Wood stands Friday on his porch in Poland. Vaccinated against COVID-19 in March and having a booster shot in September, he was exposed to the virus at church Nov. 21. He described symptoms that developed as a “nasty cold.” He did not want to drive 22 miles to the nearest testing site so he took an at-home rapid test to confirm he had the virus. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

State public health officials do not track positive results from at-home COVID-19 tests, but a spokesperson for the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention said the agency isn’t too concerned about a potential undercounting of cases.

“At-home tests join vaccines, masks and other forms of testing as tools in Maine’s ongoing work to limit potential transmission and reduce risk associated with COVID-19,” CDC spokesman Robert Long said Friday in an email.

“The added benefits at-home tests provide to those efforts outweighs any impact they could have on data collection,” he said.

Long said the Maine CDC recommends that an individual who tests positive with an at-home rapid test follow that up with a PCR test, which is lab-confirmed and reported to the state.

PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction. The diagnostic test can determine if there is an infection by analyzing a swab or saliva sample to see if it contains genetic material from the virus. Such tests can be done at drive-thru sites, hospitals or pharmacies.

There are 14 over-the-counter antigen tests that have been granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These rapid tests do not require a prescription, return results in about 15 minutes and typically cost from $10 to $30.

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah has encouraged the use of these tests as one way to gather safely during the holidays.

“Ask folks to test before they come over,” Shah said at a Nov. 17 media briefing.

“The rapid antigen tests can deliver results within 15 minutes and are quite reliable for this purpose, so long as they’re done right before folks get in the car.”

That’s what Mark Wood of Poland had in mind when he found out he was exposed to COVID at his church the Sunday before Thanksgiving. He immediately called his family and they called off dinner so he could isolate at home.

Even though Wood completed his primary vaccination series in March and got his booster in late September, he started to develop symptoms the day after Thanksgiving.

“(It) was like a nasty cold but only in my head; upper respiratory,” Wood said, speaking from his porch Friday. “Never went into my lungs like typical colds go. And I attribute that to the vaccine because when I get a cold, I usually get bronchitis.”

He slept through the weekend and when he still felt crummy on Monday, Wood said he tried to get in touch with his primary care provider to no avail. His son was able to book him an appointment to get tested, but the nearest drive-thru testing site was at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway.

Wood didn’t feel well enough to drive and didn’t want to expose anyone so that he could get a ride.

“Then my son dropped this off on Tuesday and boom, there it was,” he said. The test came back positive.

He’s still quarantining at home but feels much better than he did earlier this week. The Abbot BinaxNOW test his son brought him has two tests and he plans to use the second one Sunday to make sure the infection is gone.

But the whole experience made him wonder: “How in the world are people who are testing at home getting counted?”

They’re not, as the Maine CDC said, and it’s unclear just how many Mainers are using these kits to test themselves at home.

Even though positive cases detected via at-home rapid tests aren’t tracked, President Joe Biden announced Thursday a plan to boost supply and reimburse the cost of at-home tests so anyone can get one for free.

Shah, who is also the president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told reporters Thursday that at-home testing will be essential moving forward.

“For this next phase of the pandemic, rapid access to rapid testing will be key,” he said.

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