At-Home COVID Tests ‘Strongly Recommended' as Demand Rises: Chicago's Top Doc

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With businesses, music festivals and places of work now requiring negative COVID tests in many cases, demand for testing has left some centers overwhelmed. But there's an at-home option health officials also recommend.

Chicago's top doctor on Tuesday said the antigen home COVID tests are both accurate and convenient.

"Especially if your child or you, you know, are having symptoms, it's a very, very good test," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said during a Facebook Live. "If you're not having symptoms, it's still a good test. And it's the one that you can just take it home and have a result of in 15 minutes. It's like a pregnancy test - you see it right off the bat."

Arwady was specifically referring to the over-the-counter BinaxNow tests, which can be purchased at major stores like Walmart, Walgreens, Target and more.

“The BinaxNOW Self Test opens the door for Americans to buy an accurate and affordable test on their own terms, when and where they need it,” Andrea F. Wainer, executive vice president of Abbott’s rapid and molecular diagnostics business, said in a statement at the time. “Together with vaccines and like-minded partners such as Walgreens, we can help people get back to doing what they love – like spending time with friends and family.”

The Food and Drug Administration first gave emergency use authorization for Abbott Labs' rapid COVID-19 test for at-home, over-the-counter and non-prescription use in March.

Customers can self-administer the test using a short nasal swab and check test results in 15 minutes.

According to the manufacturer’s instructions for use, people using the test should test themselves twice with at least 36 hours between tests. The test can be used on children as young as 2 years old when samples are collected by an adult and for all people aged 15 years or older.

"If someone is really having symptoms and you're not sure, you might still need to stay home and/or get a PCR test, but I strongly recommend those home COVID tests," Arwady said. "They are approved for children, you know, who are very young and they're self administered and I think it's very helpful to have them available at home so if somebody's got symptoms, you're not running around trying to find a test for them at that point."

Individuals who test negative should continue to stay cautious, however, officials urged. Those who test positive are asked to follow the latest CDC guidelines and communicate the results to your healthcare provider, who is responsible for reporting your test results to the state health department.

Rising COVID-19 cases are putting a strain on testing centers in Illinois as patients claw to get an appointment.

Innovative Express Care-Diversey in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood is halting walk-in appointments because of the high demand.

In June, the facility was seeing around 70 patients per day. Fast forward to August, a spokeswoman said that number has skyrocketed to an average of 850 patients per day.

The uptick in testing demand has forced Physician’s Immediate Care to hire more staff, adjust staff schedules and extend hours.

Stan Blaylock, the facility's CEO overseeing 51 of its clinics, said some locations are seeing more than 100 patients per day.

“We’ve probably seen our wait times go up 40% or 50% in some places. We really had an average visit time below an hour before the spike hit,” said Blaylock. “Now our visit time is over an hour, as you might expect.”

Blaylock blames the emergence of the COVID-19 Delta variant for the increase in tests.

Another possible culprit could be recent large festivals or employers requiring the tests.

He said the clinics have invested more than a million dollars to make sure air filtration systems were up to date as more people walk through their facilities.

The trend is being seen across Illinois.

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