As coronavirus testing ramps up, so do questions about some tests’ reliability

As coronavirus testing ramps up, so do questions about some tests' reliability

BOSTON — For the Frankel family of Needham, life came to a grinding halt after one their four children tested positive for COVID-19.

“The guilt that I felt was overwhelming,” said mom, Yana Frankel. “I had a friend whose brother died of COVID. And she was so overwhelmed with the fact that we could have exposed her.”

Eight-year old Olivia, had been experiencing a stomach ache and a low grade fever. So out of an abundance of caution, her father, Ryan Frankel, a medical doctor, took her to a nearby CareWell Urgent Care clinic be tested for COVID-19.

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Olivia was positive, according a rapid nasal swab test which took just 15 minutes.

“As a parent, it was horrifying to be sitting there,” said Ryan. “My 8-year old child had just been diagnosed with COVID-19.”

Ryan, who had accompanied Olivia, also got tested and was positive. He immediately alerted his practice and his patients were told their doctor had been diagnosed with a highly infectious respiratory disease. The Frankels also notified all their friends and family.

“People came home early from vacation because of us,” said Yana. “People’s plans were canceled. It was, it was just crazy.”

The diagnosis set off a chain of events that lasted days and caused Olivia to blame herself.

“I felt like I should have been more safe even though I’m a kid,” said Olivia. “I was scared to tell my friends, that they might be mad or something.”

Ryan wanted a second opinion. He took his entire family to Mass General Brigham Urgent Care in Newton for a more comprehensive type of COVID-19 screening known as PCR test.

The results took a couple of days, but it was worth the wait, he said.

“The physician’s assistant that was calling us said, ‘I can’t understand how this is possible?‘” said Ryan.

Results from the PCR test showed the entire Frankel family, including Olivia and Ryan, tested negative.

“We wish that our testing was perfect, but unfortunately it isn’t,” said Dr. Paul Sax, who heads the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

He says studies show the PCR test is more accurate than the rapid tests. But PCR testing takes more time because the tests are sent to be analyzed in a laboratory.

Also, he adds, rapid testing is generally recommended for people without symptoms.

With COVID-19 spiking in several parts of the country, Sax says there is an increased demand for testing nationwide.

“We have so many cases in Texas, Florida, other states that the major labs, the major commercial labs have exceeded their supplies,” said Sax. “So there’s really a problem with it that the availability of the PCR tests.”

25 Investigates contacted CareWell for answers. The company’s director of sales and marketing provided detailed answers to all of our questions. He referenced a study showing the brand of rapid test CareWell uses is able to detected COVID-19 in a patient at least “87.5%” of the time and that “there weren’t any false positives in the data.”

The company went on to say: “Access to quick and accurate COVID-19 testing is one of the needs that has evolved to help reduce the spread of this virus and hopefully allow people to get back closer to a more normal life.”

CareWell also raised the possibility that the rapid test got it right and the PCR test was wrong.

Though the real cause of the discrepancy may never be known, it’s clear it took a toll on the Frankel family.

“It was it was awful,” said Yana. “It was four days of just crying and not sleeping.”

Important life decision are being made based on this testing. People are deciding whether it is safe to return to work, school and go on vacation.

In Maine, for example, visitors don’t have to quarantine if they test negative prior to arrival.


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