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Know your COVID test: Demand for testing rises with cases and health advisory


This week the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a public health advisory.

It urges people to get vaccinated, including their booster, wear a well-fitted mask in public, and get tested before visiting with friends and family.

Types of COVID tests

There are three tests that can be done when it comes to COVID-19.

The two that test for an active infection are PCR and rapid tests.

PCR or molecular tests are considered the “Gold Standard”. These are the ones typically used at community testing sites and hospitals.

You get your nose swabbed and samples sent off to a lab where they’re looking at the genetic material.

It typically takes 2 to 3 days to get results.

“It detects COVID-19 and not other things. It is very sensitive testing meaning if there are very low levels it can still be detected. This kind of testing is done in a lab. You can’t find it in a drug store,” said Mauri Brueggeman, the interim director of laboratory services at Aspirus Wausau Hospital and reference lab.

Rapid or antigen tests can be done at home in about 30 minutes.

They’re not as accurate in determining if you have COVID because they need a large amount of the virus for a positive result.

The rapid tests can be good for determining if you’re contagious in that moment.

“You might have a very low level of antigen and maybe no symptoms and it might not detect the virus then and it would look negative, but you could just be at the beginning of an infection, and you wouldn’t know then. However, given that we’re all trying to be safe, I think it is a really great option. I personally am meeting with family, and we are going to do antigen tests before we get together,” said Bruggeman.

Typically, if you have symptoms or have been exposed to the virus, you’re going to want to get a PCR test to see if you have COVID.

If you just want to see if you’re infectious as an extra safeguard before seeing people, a rapid test- likes masks and the vaccine- is another tool to help prevent the spread of COVID.

The last type of test is an anti-body test.

Unlike the other two, this one doesn’t test for an active infection.

By taking a blood sample, a lab can determine if you’ve had a COVID infection or have had the vaccine.

Brueggeman wants to make it clear, an antibody test does not determine if you have immunity to the virus.

Demand for testing

With the state averaging more than 3,500 cases of COVID a day right now, the demand for testing is high.

Aspirus is one of the many medical groups taking on that demand.

System-wide, lab technicians are processing more than 6,000 COVID tests a week.

“We currently, unfortunately, are seeing this surge that we hear about in the news, but it really is here and doesn’t seem to be dissipating,” said Brueggeman.

Brueggeman said the high number of COVID tests hasn’t impacted her team’s ability to get through their non-COVID lab work.

She credits the lab teams that have been working 24/7 throughout the pandemic.

“All of the individuals involved in patient care are putting in enormous amount of times, energy, effort, and heartfelt care for patients,” said Brueggeman. “That includes the laboratory and radiology and respiratory therapy and environmental services to make sure that all of these patients have clean rooms and all of the results they need to clinical decisions. It really is a team effort.”

Throughout the state, nearly 12% of COVID tests are coming back positive.

Within the Aspirus system, nearly 19% of tests are coming back positive.

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