MARA SILVERS Montana Free Press and KATHERYN HOUGHTON Kaiser Health News
As Montana’s tally of new COVID cases neared 1,000 each day in September, Shelly Stanley-Lehman worried about when the virus would reach her day care in Billings.
She wanted to have COVID tests on hand to help prevent an outbreak from sweeping through her business, but stores were sold out. She spent days making calls and searching online. When Stanley-Lehman finally got her hands on a box of tests later that month, it was too late — a child’s family member, unknowingly infected, had exposed the day care to COVID. The virus quickly spread to four others, including kids and staffers.
“We got the tests just in time to close down,” Stanley-Lehman said.
Rapid antigen tests for COVID have emerged as a public health tool that can help keep schools and businesses open. They are less accurate than polymerase chain reaction tests, known as PCR tests, which must be sent to a laboratory for results. However, the rapid tests’ turnaround time of as little as 15 minutes can spot cases early and, through quarantines and isolation, prevent infected people from spreading the virus at schools, businesses and other workplaces. But a