Lessons From the Field: Rapid Antigen Testing Is Efficient and Practical for Mitigation of Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreaks in Long-Term Care Facilities

Open Forum Infect Dis. 2023 Feb 21;10(2):ofad048. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofad048. eCollection 2023 Feb.


Background: Mitigation of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreaks in long-term care facilities (LTCFs) is facilitated by rapid identification and isolation of infectious individuals to interrupt viral transmission. Immunochromatographic (IC) tests, or rapid antigen tests, have high sensitivity and specificity during the contagious period for COVID-19. Mathematical modeling predicts frequent IC surveillance will be more efficient than polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based strategies, especially during community surges when reporting of PCR results can be delayed. However, there are few published field studies evaluating IC testing strategies in this long-term care setting.

Methods: In fall and winter of 2020, the Marin Health and Human Services Department implemented thrice-weekly IC mass testing by nonlaboratory workers in outbreaks that occurred in 2 LTCFs, in addition to then-standard semiweekly PCR testing. The IC test performance was characterized using same-day PCR specimens as reference standard. Cumulative incidence and duration of transmission for the 2 IC intervention facility outbreaks were compared with 6 reference LTCFs that used weekly to semiweekly PCR alone during an outbreak response.

Results: Of 123 same-day test pairs, IC test sensitivity and specificity were 75% (95% confidence interval [CI], 48%-93%) and 100% (95% CI, 97%-100%), respectively. The median duration of outbreak transmission was 19.5 days in the 2 intervention sites and 28 days in the reference facilities (P = .40). Cumulative incidence for the outbreaks among LTCF residents was 41% in the intervention facilities versus 52% in the reference facilities (P = .04, Fisher 2-sided exact).

Conclusions: Thrice-weekly mass IC testing as used by nonlaboratory personnel can be highly practical and effective for COVID-19 outbreak mitigation in the LTCF setting.

Keywords: COVID-19; nursing home; rapid antigen testing.