Adoption of cheaper COVID tests with faster results pushed

COVID-19 community testing (PNC file photo)

With tourists discouraged from visiting Guam because of the lengthy mandatory quarantine, the Guam Visitors Bureau is pushing for the adoption of cheaper COVID tests that would have a faster turnaround time for results.

According to GVB vice president Gerry Perez, the PCR test currently used by the Department of Public Health and Social Services is still the gold standard in detecting COVID-19.

However, he said studies have shown that PCR is not good for widespread surveillance and control because it is not “strategically cost-effective” and “not logistically efficient.”

Perez pointed out that the cost per PCR test is $125 or more, and it takes three days to get the results.

The rapid tests, on the other hand, cost about $5 per test and one can get a positive result in five minutes or a negative result in 15 minutes.

“With the cheaper costs, more sections of the community can be tested and the testing can easily be repeated as needed,” Perez said during Thursday’s Guam Visitors Bureau meeting.

In addition, with the cheaper tests and quicker results, these tests can be deployed more widely in various locations around the island, starting with the main gateway to the island — the airport — and on to the various hotels, restaurants, and retail outlets.

The quick turnaround in results would mean that when Guam’s tourism reopens, visitors can more quickly be tested and monitored for COVID-19 and those with negative results would have time to move around the island and enjoy themselves instead of being “imprisoned” in their hotel rooms under quarantine.

The rapid tests will also benefit local travelers and non-tourist visitors to Guam who currently have to suffer through prolonged periods of quarantine and isolation.

“If you take a rapid test, you already know you’re infected. And so you take action one way or the other. On the other hand, waiting three days later with the PCR test … who knows how many people are exposed before the results are in,” Perez said.

One example of a rapid test is the Abbott test which Perez described as rapid, reliable, portable, and affordable.

“It’s an affordable tool that can detect the virus at a massive scale. There’s really no instrumentation other than probably strategically placed ones. You can get test results in 15 minutes. They have a 97% sensitivity rate and 98% specificity rate,” Perez said.

Moreover, Perez said a free app can display test results for help in entry into sensitive areas.

“So once you have the app, before you enter any place that requires clearance, you can just scan your app and it’ll tell them you’re tested,” Perez said.

GVB board member Milton Morinaga said a number of the rapid Abbott test kits are already on island and it’s just a matter of deploying them.

Morinaga pointed out that Japan is already using the rapid COVID tests in the country’s Narita and Haneda airports.

He added that if Guam can employ the same rapid COVID tests that are used in Japan and Guam’s other major markets, visitors from these countries would be more assured and comfortable about visiting Guam