COVID Q&A: Vaccine, flu vs. COVID-19, and counting rapid antigen tests

How is Idaho preparing for a COVID-19 vaccine, and will the state be ready when a vaccine is available?

The Department of Health and Welfare has a pandemic plan for vaccine deployment and distribution that will be updated when we know which vaccines will be available and what the priority groups for vaccination will be.

Idaho, like all other states, is still waiting on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the White House Task Force before the plan can be adjusted to fit this pandemic. The plan includes Idaho’s Immunization Information System having the appropriate functionality to both recall patients for their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine and to track any potential adverse events from the vaccine.

What is the difference between COVID-19 and influenza?

As we near the start of the flu season (generally between October and May), it’s a good idea to review the symptoms of both. It’s an even better idea to get an annual flu vaccine to reduce the chance you and your family will get the flu during this pandemic. The vaccine is safe and the best protection you can get against the flu.

While more is learned every day, there is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it.

Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with the new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis.

Flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, but there are some key differences between the two, including some symptoms (loss of taste and smell is a distinct symptom of COVID-19) and who may have the worst outcomes. The CDC has a great site that lists the similarities, as well as the differences.

Are antigen tests included in your state’s positive, negative and total testing numbers? If so, are they reported separately from PCR tests?

Molecular amplification tests (commonly called PCR tests) are the gold standard for determining whether someone has the virus that causes COVID-19. They are the most accurate, but they also take the longest (several hours for the test itself) to perform.

Antigen tests provide a result much more quickly (within minutes), but they are less accurate than PCR tests, and people who are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 could get a false negative. Knowing this, doctors may sometimes prescribe a PCR test to confirm an antigen test result.

Antigen test results are included in Idaho’s data dashboard in the number of total tests, but they are not used to calculate percent positivity. Percent positivity is only calculated using PCR tests from laboratories sending both positive and negative results to ensure an accurate calculation.

Antigen results are not currently separate in the total test number, but those counts will be included on Idaho’s dashboard soon. They will be categorized as PCR, antigen, and antibody tests.

Thank you to everyone who has done their best to:

  • Keep at least six feet between you and others in public
  • Wear face coverings in public places 
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly

Resources

Stay up-to-date with the latest and most accurate information on COVID-19 at the following websites:

DHW also posts lots of information, including daily updates on the numbers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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