COVID testing: Can't get an appointment? Antigen test might be your answer

The cost of an antigen test is unlikely to be covered by health insurance, but Medicare and Medi-Cal may cover it.
LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Demand for coronavirus testing has been outpaced by the availability, often putting people who want to get tested in a tough spot.

But there are other options. Now pharmacists are offering COVID-19 testing.

Sandra Wilson's family went on a Vegas road trip with her sister-in-law. When she returned, Sandra learned her sister-in-law had tested positive for COVID-19

Wilson said, "We hung out in the same condo. And we drove in the same car."

Wilson immediately sought testing but says getting an appointment through Los Angeles County's website was like trying to buy the hottest concert tickets in town.

"It's all gone. I mean just within seconds it seems like there were 30 slots," Wilson said, "And by the time you come back to that area, they're all gone."

The Director of Infectious Disease at Dignity Health California Hospital, Dr. Suman Radhakrishna said, "The wait is increasing. The time to getting the results is increasing because of the backlog."

Because of this, L.A. County also announced it is prioritizing who can get tested. But there are other options for testing. Elements Pharmacy in Studio City offers one of them.

Owner and pharmacist Sherri Cherman said, "We are able to offer our customers an antigen test where we can provide the results the same day."

Unlike the well-known molecular tests which look for the genetic material of the virus, antigen tests look for specific proteins on the surface of the virus.

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Quynh Vorkenhagen with Elements Pharmacy said, "They do their own self swab. They stay in their car, minimizing the contact with the provider and the patient. So it is safe for both of us."

While a positive result may be reliable, if the antigen test is negative, Radhakrishna said you can't rely on that.

"The false negative with the antigen test can be as high as 50%," she said.

But Radhakrishna said a negative result still has value.

"If they have symptoms. If they have a negative test," she said, "Talk to your doctors, they will help analyze and say yes, this makes sense this is a true negative. "

Your doctor can tell you if you still need to quarantine. The antigen tests costs $125 dollars, and is unlikely to be covered by insurance, but Medicare and Medi-Cal may cover it. For those who can't get a testing appointment, the quick turnaround may offer some peace of mind.

Radhakrishna said, "Sure, go ahead and get it, but don't stop doing all the other things. If you think you were exposed quarantine yourself. Wear the mask and wash your hands." Elements Pharmacy recommends registering online before you come in for an antigen test.
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