The omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus is sweeping Arizona. Here's where to get tested.
How to find a testing site near you
For a full list of testing sites in Arizona, go to https://www.azdhs.gov/covid19/index.php#everyone-get-tested or call the state's bilingual COVID-19 hotline at 844-542-8201, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Select Option 8 to speak with a navigator.
The state health department has partnered with Arizona State University to launch several testing sites providing free saliva diagnostic testing for COVID-19 in high-need underserved communities around the state.
Testing events and information on how to register are listed on state and county health department websites.
Anyone seeking testing may want to look online and directly contact national chain pharmacies, local urgent care clinics and community clinics.
The tests are by appointment only. No walk-ins, and children under five years old cannot receive saliva tests. Information about the saliva tests is here: https://www.azdhs.gov/covid19/index.php#everyone-asu-testing
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How to know if the COVID-19 testing site is free
If you're uncertain about the cost of testing at a certain provider, it can help to call and confirm before visiting. The type of test and frequency of testing may impact costs covered by insurance. Most community-based sites are free.
Pima County, for example, has changed what kinds of tests it provides for free. People can get free testing with or without symptoms, without doctor referral and after waiting five days after exposure if they don't have symptoms. Patients can't get free testing if they need it for a work requirement, if they need a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test for travel or if they've had a test at a county site within the last two weeks.
All the test sites listed on Maricopa County's event calendar are free, with no copays, regardless of insurance status. Other test sites may have fees, so it's good to call first.
How to know if it's a rapid testing site
The test site listing should provide information about what type of test is used and how long results typically take. Patients can call the test provider for more information.
Generally, there are two types of tests for detecting active COVID-19 infection: PCR tests and antigen tests. PCR tests look for the genetic material of the virus and are considered highly accurate, but results can take time. Antigen tests look for proteins and can produce results in minutes. Positive antigen tests are considered accurate, but negative tests may be wrong and can be confirmed with PCR.
How long will it take to get my results?
For PCR tests, generally considered to be more accurate, the turnaround time is generally 24 hours, but can take considerably longer at some sites because of high demand.
Some rapid tests can give results within minutes.
Testing events by county
County health departments have testing resources, too, including a calendar of testing events. In Maricopa County, free, public walk-up and drive-thru community testing events are scheduled every week. Appointments are recommended due to high demand.
For information go to https://www.maricopa.gov/5588/COVID-19-Testing or call the Maricopa CARES line at 602-506-6767.
Find testing centers and events in Pima County at https://webcms.pima.gov/cms/One.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=575060.
The Pima County Health Department had been giving away free BinaxNOW rapid, antigen self-tests through public libraries but as of Jan. 3 they were no longer available due to limited supply. The department regularly updates its testing site to add testing kit giveaways.
Other counties have information on their websites, or visit the state health department's website for county locations.
Get an at-home COVID-19 test
The federal government is offering free at-home rapid antigen tests at covidtests.gov, which was operating at limited capacity Jan. 18, with plans to launch mid-morning Jan. 19, according to USA Today.
Americans are supposed to be able to order up to four kits per address. Once ordered, tests are to be mailed within seven to 13 days. The Biden administration is buying 1 billion tests to distribute through the website and a phone line.
Some tests are being reserved to prioritize sending kits to households in the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities, USA Today reported.
At-home tests have been available in limited supply through local city or city governments and at places such as libraries and at pharmacies.
Dr. Joshua LaBaer, Executive Director of the ASU Biodesign Institute, cautioned against relying solely on rapid antigen tests to detect omicron infection. He said those tests don’t appear to be working very well for the omicron variant, with a very high false-negative rate.
That means a rapid test may say someone is not infected when they are infected, and that happens often for people without symptoms. If you’ve been exposed to the virus and want to see if you’re infected, a PCR test is much better than a rapid antigen test, LaBaer said.
Abbott, which makes BinaxNOW rapid at-home antigen tests, on Dec. 28 released a statement that says BinaxNOW detected the omicron variant in all tests performed "at equivalent sensitivity as other variants."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 29 said that early data suggests antigen tests "do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity."
A list of at-home antigen tests with emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is available at https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-emergency-use-authorizations-medical-devices/in-vitro-diagnostics-euas-antigen-diagnostic-tests-sars-cov-2.
What do I do if my at-home test is positive?
To best assist public health officials with surveillance, report positive COVID-19 tests taken at home. Reports may be made to your primary care provider, who should report the case to public health.
Depending on where you got the home test from, there may be instructions about reporting results.
If you do not have a primary care provider, Maricopa County residents may call 602-506-6767 to report a positive test. If you are a K-12 student or staff member, you also should report your positive result to your school.
The Pima County Health Department has an online form for reporting positive at-home tests: https://webcms.pima.gov/cms/One.aspx?pageId=787398
Pima County residents can call 520-724-7147 to report a positive at-home test.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: At home and rapid COVID -19 testing in Arizona