As Covid cases climb, testing options grow. Here’s a look at what’s new.

If you are exposed to someone with Covid-19 and want to know if you caught it, your choices are much better than just a few months ago. You can go to urgent cares, retail pharmacies, doctors’ offices and private laboratories for a variety of tests and rapid results – a critical expansion of choices at a time when new cases are spiking in Florida and the U.S.

The state has ditched the slow-processing labs, secured quicker tests and cut wait times from the early months of the pandemic. Floridians will now find a range of choices on places to go, types of tests, and turnaround speed.

Earlier this week, Alex Morton found out at 5 p.m. his roommate had tested positive for the virus, and wanted to know if he could go to work the next day. Morton rushed to a nearby Fort Lauderdale urgent clinic open until 9 p.m., took a coronavirus test and learned he was negative the next morning. “It was a relief,” he said.

No appointment required

Many urgent care centers in South Florida offer evening hours for testing. Holy Cross Hospital operates urgent care centers in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs and says patients can get results with 8 to 10 hours.

If you’d rather test yourself at home, Quest Diagnostics and Labcorp, two of the nation’s biggest laboratories, will deliver collection kits to take a sample and send it back for processing. Quest charges $119 for the test.

Costco offers its members do-it-yourself Covid-19 tests that involve spitting into a small tube and sending it to a lab. For $129.99, you’ll get results 24-72 hours after the lab gets the test. For $10 more, you can get results 24-48 hours after the test arrives at the lab.

If you prefer drive-thru testing, Walmart, Walgreens and CVS, have it available at certain South Florida locations.

CVS Minute Clinics have begun to offer rapid tests with 30-minute results, but so far the nine Florida locations are in the central area of the state and the pharmacy hasn’t announced when they will be available in South Florida.

The state continues to run numerous walk-up and drive-thru testing sites in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade. Many are open seven days a week, but all close by 6 p.m. and some much earlier. Appointments are not required but some locations make them available.

Currently, the Hard Rock Stadium in North Miami-Dade County is the busiest, but not nearly as bad as the early days. “Anyone who wants a test can get one. We are not seeing the challenges of when we first started,” said Mike Jachle, chair of the Florida Association of Public Information Officers, which supports the state at the test sites.

Some cities like Miramar also have opened their own free test sites. Miramar’s self-administered saliva test given at Miramar Regional Park has a 48 hour turnaround time.

Anyone can get tested, for free

In most cases, you do not have to pay for a Covid-19 test. At public locations (parks and stadiums) tests are free. At private locations such as urgent care centers and doctors’ offices insurers are required to cover the cost of FDA-approved Covid-19 tests without charging a copay as long as a health care provider says you have symptoms or have been exposed to someone with the virus.

Antibody tests for COVID-19 are available through most healthcare providers and laboratories. The tests do not show active infections and you can take about two weeks after an exposure to show antibodies. In most cases, the antibody tests are covered by insurance.

During the first wave of the pandemic, short supplies meant only healthcare workers, seniors or people with symptoms could get swabbed. Later on, many sites limited testing to people 18 and older.

Now, with South Florida public schools open for in-person learning, anyone — regardless of age, with or without symptoms — can roll up and get tested at no cost at government-supported testing sites.

Certain locations such as Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill are dedicated test collection locations for school children and staff.

More types of tests are available

You don’t want a swab stuck high into your nasal passage?

Now you can spit in a tube or slightly swab your nose instead.

There still are three kinds of tests:

* Molecular (PCR) tests, which are highly accurate and considered the gold standard, but could take about three days to get results. These are the traditional nasal swabs but can also include saliva samples.

* Rapid antigen tests, which are faster and more convenient but are less reliable at finding the virus when it is in low abundance in the later stages of infection. It’s still unclear how well they work on people who are asymptomatic. These are the nasal or throat swabs.

* Antibody tests, which use blood samples to determine prior exposure to the virus and possible immunity.

In South Florida, the first test capable of providing reliable results quickly has rolled out at state-run drive-thru sites. The BinaxNow test manufactured by Abbott Labs is an antigen test with a higher level of sensitivity. This nasal swab delivers results in about five to 15 minutes.

Some people, particularly those with symptoms, are opting to get the BinaxNow rapid test and the PCR tests during their drive-thru, Jachles said. In doing so, they get a quick answer and a back up for assurance of accuracy.

Test results arrive faster

With new machinery and devices, South Florida residents no longer have to endure the frustrations of waiting weeks not knowing if they have the virus and could infect their households.

Healthcare professionals say in South Florida, it is taking on average about 24 to 72 hours to get results for PCR tests once they sent specimens to private labs. In the summer, it had been taking an average of 7 to 10 days to get results.

Antigen tests, also known as rapid tests, take 15 to 30 minutes for results depending on the manufacturer. At this time, the BinaxNow tests are the most accurate or sensitive rapid tests. The federal government has purchased them from Abbott Laboratories and says it will send Florida 6.8 million tests to use at nursing homes, schools and testing sites.

The answers come right to you

No more waiting weeks for someone to email or call with results. Results are as easy to get as a tap on your smartphone to open a text alert or browser to check into a patient portal.

Jachles said by the time people arrive home from South Florida sites that use the BinaxNow tests, they usually have received a text alert notifying them their result is available.

“Getting tested and knowing your result is a good thing,” Jachles said. “It allows you to protect everyone around you.”

Sun Sentinel Health Reporter Cindy Goodman can be reached at [email protected] or Twitter @cindykgoodman.

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