Yellowstone health officials urging people not to use rapid COVID-19 tests

Yellowstone health officials urging people not to use rapid COVID-19 tests

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Public health officials are urging Yellowstone County residents not to use rapid COVID-19 tests.

The Unified Health Command, comprised of RiverStone Health, Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare and Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services, is urging people to not use these rapid tests due to serious flaws that could hinder data collection of the disease and provide false results, according to a press release from RiverStone Health.

The Food and Drug Administration has not authorized any test available to purchase for testing at home for COVID-19, according to the release. The rapid tests look for the presence of antibodies that are produced as part of the immune response to a virus. However, antibodies may not be detectable for three to seven days after a person is infected. During this time, a person could be infectious even if the test produces a negative result.

The tests being sent to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services Laboratory and to independent laboratories identify the COVID-19 virus specifically. The rapid tests do not.

Rapid tests may produce a positive result if the person has been infected with a past or present form of coronavirus. “Coronavirus” includes a large group of viruses that can cause respiratory illnesses, and doesn’t define a specific one, according to the release. The rapid tests do not differentiate the specific novel coronavirus strains of the virus from antibodies produced to fight other coronavirus infections.

“Yellowstone County residents, appropriate for testing, should get tested for COVID-19 at either the St. Vincent Healthcare or Billings Clinic testing sites,” said Dr. Neil Ku, Billings Clinic Infectious Disease physician. A licensed healthcare provider must order COVID-19 tests.

St. Vincent Healthcare’s site is in parking lot M, at the northwest corner of North 27th Street and 11th Avenue North. Billings Clinic’s site is located in the former dialysis unit on the west side of the hospital building.

For more information, the public may call the Billings Clinic HealthLine at 406-255-8400, the St. Vincent Healthcare at 406-237-8775 or the RiverStone Health Public Health Information line at 406-651-6415.

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The small community in northern Montana has a population of about 4,800 but accounts for three-fifths of the state's five total deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus

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