Miami-Dade Changes Its Rapid Antigen Test Procedure

You can no longer just take a rapid antigen test at Miami-Dade County-run testing sites.
You can no longer just take a rapid antigen test at Miami-Dade County-run testing sites. Photo by Nadine DeMarco
Two tests are apparently better than one. Starting today, anyone looking to take a rapid COVID-19 test at any of the 27 Miami-Dade County-run testing sites will have to also take a PCR test, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Greg Rubin tells New Times.

Both tests will be administered during the same appointment.

"We want to make sure people get the best information," Rubin says. "I don't want them to have a negative antigen test on Monday, have COVID on Tuesday, then go out and get their families sick."

Antigen tests, while reliable when they show a positive result, are less sensitive than PCR tests and have a higher risk of showing false-negative results, according to the Mayo Clinic. Rubin says that lower sensitivity made county officials consider phasing out antigen tests altogether to provide the public with more reliable results.

Though antigen tests results are usually available within two hours, the county considers PCR tests — the results of which are normally available within 24 to 48 hours — their "gold standard" for COVID-19 testing. Those who only want a PCR test will not be required to take an antigen test.

This change comes amid a surging demand for coronavirus testing as Florida grapples with the highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19. COVID-related hospitalizations have broken daily records for nearly two weeks straight, and new cases have skyrocketed after a brief reprieve.

According to the Florida Department of Health — which now only releases COVID-19 case data weekly — new cases across the state spiked from 23,548 the week of July 8 to 134,506 the week of August 5. The seven-day average for new cases per day in Florida was 20,059 as of this past Monday, according to the Miami Herald, up from a low of about 1,000 cases per day in June. Florida has also seen an increased number of children and younger patients hospitalized with COVID-19 recently, due in large part to the delta variant.

In Miami-Dade County, 19,630 people tested positive during the week of August 5.

Rubin says the county has seen a sharp increase in demand for testing in recent weeks and has had to open up additional testing sites to accommodate. He estimates there are 10 times more people being tested now than there was four weeks ago.

In an update last week, Walgreens pharmacy named Florida as one of a handful of states where demand for testing has gone up by 30 percent in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday afternoon, none of the Walgreens testing sites in Miami-Dade County were offering rapid antigen-test appointments, and appointments for other tests such as PCR were filling up.

"Some locations experiencing heightened demand may be experiencing minor delays of availability," Walgreens spokesperson Phil Caruso tells New Times. "We are working with all of our testing partners to continue meeting patient demand."

In some cases, the increased demand has led to a supply shortage of tests, leaving locals to scramble across the county in search of a site with available tests.

Celia Almeida, a New Times contributor, signed up for an appointment at the Joseph Caleb Center on Monday, but when she arrived after work, she says staff at the site turned her away. "When I got to the front and showed my QR code, they said they were all out of test kits," Almeida says. "They said they only had vaccines."

Almeida says she then drove 15 minutes to the Salvation Army test site on West Flagler, only to find that site had also run out of antigen tests. Almeida, who had just returned from out-of-state travels, opted to take a PCR test, but did not receive her results until 45 hours later.

"To me it shows that this is escalating and people aren't catching up," Almeida says.

Rubin confirms that the Joseph Caleb Center and Salvation Army site ran out of test kits for a few hours this Monday, but both sites received new shipments and he does not expect any more supply issues, even with the surge in demand.

As Miami-Dade braces against this wave of COVID-19, Rubin stresses the importance for all residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"Vaccine is the proven method to deter getting COVID, or if you do catch it, to avoid hospitalization and major side effects," Rubin says. "At the end of the day, the best decision is to get vaccinated." 
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos