Testing curtails spread of virus

By Jennifer Dunlay

When cases of COVID-19 started to spike in December, appointments for COVID-19 testing filled as fast as vaccine appointments did a year ago. Rapid at-home tests were nowhere to be found on store shelves as the Omicron variant infected thousands of Johnson County residents in early 2022.

By mid-January, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment opened additional COVID-19 testing sites in Shawnee and Roeland Park and expanded hours at its other testing sites in Overland Park and Leawood to accommodate for the demand.

This move was an important step in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in the community. Testing not only lets you know your risk of spreading COVID-19 to others, but it’s the primary way health officials can monitor the spread of infection in the community and put in place mitigation measures if necessary.

“If you have symptoms, even mild ones, get tested,” says Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, adding COVID-19 symptoms can mimic allergies or influenza, so getting tested is the only way to know if you’re infected with the virus/variant.

“If you know you’re infected, you can isolate and stop the chain of transmission. The Omicron variant spreads easily so we must do all we can – vaccination, masking, distancing, testing, staying home when sick – to limit the spread of the virus to others in the community who may be vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.”

According to Areola, if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you don’t have any symptoms, wait five days before conducting a self-test or getting tested at a COVID-19 testing site. If you start to have symptoms, stay home and away from others and test yourself immediately.

As long as you haven’t tested positive in the past 90 days, a PCR test is recommended when you’ve been told you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 and you are not experiencing any symptoms, or you are experiencing symptoms and received a negative result from an at-home test.

The rapid self-tests can be taken at home or anywhere, are easy to use and produce rapid results. A positive rapid test means you are likely infected with the virus, whether you have symptoms or not. A PCR test isn’t necessary to confirm this.

If you get a positive result on a rapid test, begin isolating from others for a full five days. Day zero begins on the date you tested positive or were exposed to someone who is positive for COVID-19. The health department has a quarantine and isolation calculator available at jocogov.org/QuarantineCalculator that will tell you when isolation and quarantine ends.

The at-home tests are less sensitive than the PCR test which is why JCDHE recommends you repeat the rapid test again in 24 hours if you’re experiencing symptoms and receive a negative result, or follow-up with a PCR test to confirm whether you’re infected or not.

Individuals with private health insurance and group health plans can go online or to a pharmacy or store and buy up to eight at-home tests per month, and either get it paid for up front by their health plan or get reimbursed for the cost by submitting a claim to their plan. This means a family of four can get 32 tests per month for free. This coverage started Jan. 15 and is valid for as long as the public health emergency lasts. This reimbursement does not apply to Medicare beneficiaries.

In addition to the testing sites operated by KDHE, free COVID-19 tests can also be found at local pharmacies, healthcare provider office’s and at JCDHE’s Olathe drive-thru clinic by appointment. The federal government also allows every residence to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests at covidtests.gov/.

Areola advises residents not to seek testing at a hospital emergency room. Not only is this practice expensive, but hospitals don’t have the staffing capacity to conduct COVID-19 testing on those who are not experiencing a medical emergency. Instead, visit KnowBeforeYouGoKS.com or jocogov.org/coronavirus to find a nearby testing site.

For more information about COVID-19 or to schedule a vaccination or test, visit jocogov.org/coronavirus or call 913-715-2819, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jennifer Dunlay is the risk communicator for the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. The information in this article was accurate at the time of publishing but is subject to change as new data becomes available.

Medical personnel wearing masks test people for COVID-19 at drive-thru testing facility.