Antigen testing (self-testing kits) are becoming popular in workplaces, including some childcare settings. It is important to note, however, that although they may provide faster results, they are less reliable (for example, a false-negative reading is more likely). This is because the testing is done in most cases either by the individual him/herself, or by another individual, as opposed to a medical professional. That is one thing to keep in mind. Where an individual who is medically trained or skilled in COVID testing is recruited, there may be a higher chance of receiving more accurate results.
Another point to note is that not everyone will want to carry out routine tests on themselves, or will do so if/when asked. The procedure of routine testing can be actively encouraged, but not forced on staff members.
The main advantage of regular/routine antigen testing is to detect a positive case in an a-symptomatic individual. Where a person is symptomatic, and feels unwell, they will be required to move to isolation, phone their GP and be referred for testing where they meet criteria for referral. However, both ways of detecting a positive result will amount to the same immediate actions taken thereafter – confirming and notifying the close contacts, moving to isolation and referral for testing. By the nature of the incubation period of the virus, it is quite likely that transmission has already occurred in the time before symptoms became present, or in the time before the antigen test was carried out. Hence, the overall importance of maintaining social distancing, wearing of masks, the regular and thorough washing of hands and regular disinfection of communal or high touch surfaces.
Another point to note is where someone is experiencing symptoms and feels unwell, but their antigen test result reads negative, they are still expected to restrict movements and phone their GP. The negative result should not warrant a continuation of their normal movements and behaviours where they have COVID symptoms. The negative result could be indicative of a poor method of self-testing. There is a risk there to consider where a potentially positive person could continue to transmit virus following a false negative result.
Another point to note is where a positive case is detected through an antigen ‘home-kit’, that person will still be required to have a PCR test taken by a GP to confirm that result. This PCR test is linked directly to a testing lap where there is a system in place of determining and notifying of close contacts. Antigen tests done privately are missing this link to the lab and to this system in place, hence why the PCR test will be undertaken by a GP and close contacts will be determined by the Public Health Team.
However, the practice or offering of antigen testing may also help to settle fear/anxiety among staff and/or offer a sense of reassurance, particularly following a confirmed positive case or outbreak where there may be naturally heightened levels of anxiety. “