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When it comes to Omicron, the type of COVID test you take could make a difference

Studies show the Omicron virus often appears first in the upper airways and the throat, so some doctors are advising throat swabs.
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 12:11 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2022 at 11:12 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Studies show the Omicron virus often appears first in the upper airways and the throat, so some doctors are advising throat swabs.

“About two days earlier, you will find Omicron in the throat before you find it in the nose,” said Dr. Scott Miscovich, of Premier Medical Group.

The state Health Department reports 97% of Hawaii’s COVID cases are Omicron.

“So, what we’re finding is that people who are getting a nasal swab on day one, when they’re actually spreading COVID are being tested as negative,” Miscovich explained. “But then on day three, if you do a nasal swab, you finally detect that they are positive.”

The FDA acknowledged last month that antigen tests have a reduced sensitivity to the Omicron strain.

The agency issued emergency-use authorizations for more accurate tests by Roche and Siemens Healthineers.

But getting the tests to the market takes time.

“The CDC does not keep up with the data and cannot move fast enough to do something that is so straightforward,” said Miscovich.

The Honolulu tech firm Oceanit knows what it takes.

Dr. Patrick Sullivan, CEO of Oceanit, said they have been navigating the regulatory process for its COVID test for six months.

“So we literally put somebody on an air Sunday night with 10 samples to a lab in Austin to do the genetic sequencing,” said Sullivan. “He got there at eight this morning and they’re going to run the samples.

“But it’s almost like this incredible journey,” Sullivan described. “Like a scavenger hunt, you know, we got so many hours to do the next thing.”

The CEO also says antigen tests need to be practical.

They switched to a nasal swab after first producing a test that required a tube full of saliva.

“We found that it was not so easy for everybody to spit,” said Sullivan. “As simple as that may sound, we thought, if it was going to be something used broadly, it has to be very consistent.”

The CDC says at home antigen tests like BinaxNow are roughly 85% accurate at detecting positive cases.

They recommend that throat swabs be collected only by a trained healthcare provider.

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