CVS to roll out rapid Covid-19 testing at 1,000 sites

CVS plans to offer rapid Covid-19 tests at 1,000 of its drive-thru testing sites. Photo credit: CVS Health

CVS Health plans to roll out rapid Covid-19 tests at 1,000 locations by the end of the year. That includes adding rapid testing to some of its existing test sites, as well as opening new ones. CVS currently has more than 4,000 drive-thru test sites across the U.S., where it offers PCR tests.

Patients have to register in advance for a testing appointment. They will receive a swab going through the drive thru, and then will be instructed to wait in their care for results, which take about 30 minutes. Patients who test negative for Covid-19 could receive testing for strep or flu. By the end of the week, CVS said it plans to have nearly 100 rapid testing sites in 22 states.

The pharmacy chain hasn’t specified which rapid Covid-19 tests it will be using. More than a dozen companies are currently developing rapid antigen tests, which detect proteins on the surface of the virus.

While faster, these tests haven’t proven to be as accurate as traditional PCR tests. They’re generally less sensitive, meaning they’re slightly more prone to false negative results. According to the CDC, antigen tests that have received an emergency use authorization have a sensitivity ranging from 84% to 97.6%.

Others, like Abbott, have developed rapid molecular tests, though the company has been on the defense after a Cleveland Clinic study found its ID NOW test only detected the virus in 85% of cases.

From the beginning, the current administration’s response to the pandemic has leaned heavily on retailers. Early in the pandemic, President Donald Trump touted drive-thru testing at CVS, Walgreens, and other retail sites.

Now, the administration seems to be turning to a similar strategy for how vaccines will be distributed. Though no Covid-19 vaccine has yet received an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, last week, the Department of Health and Human Services said CVS and Walgreens would administer vaccines in nursing homes for free. So far, between 9,000 and 10,000 facilities have opted into the program, HHS Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy Paul Mango said in a Friday press call.

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