Many people have come out for our free COVID-19 testing events in Okanogan County this month – way to go Okanogan County! If you’ve come down for a test, you know that staff are coaching people on how to collect their own sample, it’s called a nasal self-swab.
When you self-swab, you do not reach deep into the back of the nose. It is enough to just swirl the swab in the nostrils until the swab material disappears from view. We’ve all heard the stories of people getting a COVID-19 test described as reaching so far back into the nose it ‘tickles the brain’ — that is not the test we are conducting.
We’ve been asked about the accuracy of self-swabbing compared to deeper swabbing or one done by a healthcare worker. Can doing it yourself really be as good?
Okanogan County Public Health (OCPH) is following the guidance of the FDA and other medical research groups who have found that deep nasal and shallow nasal swabbing give close to the same test result. One group of doctors tested over 500 patients who had symptoms of upper respiratory infection. First, the patients swabbed themselves in the nose. Then, a healthcare worker swabbed deep into their nostrils. Both swabs were then tested separately for the virus. They found that samples from the same person matched more than 90% of the time.
>> Read the article in the New England Journal of Medicine here.
This is great news because we are less likely to cough or sneeze when we self-swab less deeply in the nostrils, which minimizes the risk of exposure for healthcare workers and people standing nearby. We also don’t need as much PPE (personal protective equipment), which is still in limited supply around the nation.
While no test is perfect, you can trust the test results from community testing.
That said, if you receive a negative test result and have strong reason to believe you may have COVID-19 (for example, you are symptomatic or had significant exposure to people with confirmed COVID-19), you should get tested again in 3 days and out of caution, act as though you have COVID-19.
Swabs Collected by Patients or Health Care Workers for SARS-CoV-2 Testing. NEJM, July 30, 2020. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2016321