In an effort to scale up testing for COVID-19 nationally the Ministry of Health introduces the rapid antigen test at specific points of care. The testing option shall commence through a two phase approach. The first phase shall focus on the validation of the test, which is a standard activity prior to the full scale introduction of any diagnostic test. In this validation phase people who come for COVID-19 testing at the Victoria Hospital, Owen King European Union Hospital, the St Jude Hospital and the Vigie Sports Complex testing outpost will be offered antigen tests.
The validation phase covers a one week period and is expected to be completed by February 13, 2021. Due to the high prevalence of COVID-19 in Saint Lucia, any individual with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, who tests positive on an antigen test, is considered a confirmed COVID-19 case. However, while the validation phase is being undertaken, anyone presenting for testing at the clinics which were previously mentioned receives both an antigen and a COVID-19 PCR test.
It is important to note that a negative antigen result does not necessarily mean the absence of COVID-19 infection particularly as it is possible to get a negative test result despite having symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 or being a contact of a confirmed case. In such instances, the antigen test must be confirmed with the DNA PCR test.
Individuals who receive a negative result on an antigen test should confirm that diagnosis
with a PCR test and continue to quarantine at home until receipt of their DNA PCR results. The antigen test detects the presence of a specific protein of the COVID-19 virus. A positive test in someone with symptoms indicates that they presently have the virus. Like the sampling procedure for the COVID-19 PCR test, the antigen test requires a swab sample to be taken from the nose.
Antigen tests offer some advantages for both the individual and the health care system
- They are fairly inexpensive
- The test can be used within non-health settings as well as within clinical settings where individuals seek care such as respiratory clinics or hospital emergency rooms
- They provide results in approximately 20 minutes.
- There is no need for highly technical staff to perform the antigen test
- The antigen tests allow for rapid detection and isolation of cases particularly those people who present with symptoms
- The quick turnaround of test results allow for faster identifying of high-risk contacts of confirmed cases
This Validation Phase is required to ensure the reliability of the Antigen Tests as a diagnostic tool. On completion of this validation and the confirmation of its reliability, the second phase will be implemented. During this phase, select respiratory clinics will become dedicated antigen testing sites on the island. In the lead-up to this second phase of point-of-care antigen testing the public will be provided with more information.
The Ministry of Health continues to reiterate, that the most successful approach to control COVID-19 is through early detection and isolation of the most infectious persons and their close contacts. The Ministry of Health continues to solicit the cooperation of the citizenry of Saint Lucia as it seeks to roll out the antigen test at different points of care.