Misc 13/12/2020

"I don't understand, we have to buy covid tests like if they were drugs"

Laboratories and private clinics see a surge in demand for tests around Christmas time

Maria Garcia
4 min
Personal sanitari fent una PCR en una imatge d’arxiu.

GironaAs much as families are reducing the plans they traditionally make for Christmas, they are aware that the fact of being reunited with their loved ones - who usually belong to different bubbles - implies the risk of contagion or infection of covid-19. And, although the Health Department and the Ministry of Health have advised against using fast tests as a "passport" for family meals, many people have chosen to have a test done just before the designated dates: some families have bought a box of antigen tests through a friend who is a friend of a doctor, others have bought them from an Internet site, or there are also those who have obtained them through their company. Likewise, laboratories such as Eldine or ADN Institut have seen how the number of appointments prior to the 23rd and 31st December has multiplied, as well as those after Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and Epiphany.

"We know that antigen tests can give a false negative result, but surely it is better that we all do it than to not do it at all", Quim says, a resident of Girona who, since the beginning of the school year, decided to buy antigen tests. First he did it online and then through a doctor who is a friend of an acquaintance of his. "We both find ourselves in the same situation: we have a pregnant wife and another school-age child. And we feel more comfortable if we can have a test every week". And now, looking ahead to the holidays, they talked to the family and agreed to buy a box of 25 tests to take before they meet up again. "I don't understand why the Generalitat doesn't make it easier: we have to buy tests as if they were drugs", criticizes the Girona resident, who thinks that they should be available in pharmacies.

Tests before lunch

"Maybe one in ten gives a false result, but what about the positives that do get detected? You can prevent a person from infecting the whole family without knowing it", says Georgina, a neighbour from Terres de l'Ebre, who has obtained rapid tests through her company. Her whole family will take two tests: one when they arrive in the village and the other before lunch on the 25th. "We are four brothers and their parents, all of them with different bubbles and living between Barcelona and Terres de l'Ebre. We have already reduced it a lot and it will be just us, without uncles or cousins, and the little Christmas that will remain, at least we want it to be safe", argues the businesswoman.

These are very similar reasons to those given by Roger, from Sabadell, who has bought a box of antigen tests through a website. "We got advice from some doctors to find out which brands were more reliable or what kind of tests were most recommended". "But we don't want to give up on seeing each other, nor do we want to infect the people we love", he says.

All three have paid a similar price: between 10 and 12 euros per test, buying a box of 20 or 25 units. This is less than half the amount offered in private laboratories and clinics: between 30 and 40 euros for the antigen test, and around 100 euros for the PCR.

The latter options are the one chosen by Cristina's family, from Blanes, who have made an appointment to have a test done through their health insurance company. "My grandfather has terminal cancer, it is the last Christmas he will live and we will live it with him. We cannot and do not want to give up celebrating it, but we do want to do it as safely as we can", she says.

But those of Quim, Georgina, Roger or Cristina are not the only families who have chosen to take a test before Christmas. This can be seen from the increase in requests for information and appointments for testing that have been registered by different centres such as the Eldine, ADN Institut and Dr. Ferrer laboratories, as well as the Sanitas health insurance company and the Ascires Biomedical Group. "Unlike the rest of the year, we now receive requests from entire families who want to make an appointment", both Grupo Biomédico Ascires and ADN Institut indicate: "Generally only one person calls to make an appointment for themselves, now one person calls to make an appointment for themselves and three or four others". They have definitely noted an increase in testing: "Now we do between 10 and 12 tests a day and only for the 23rd we have 41 appointments, when there are still 15 days left".

In this sense, the doctor and manager of the Eldine laboratory, Àngels Fortuño, emphasizes that they are also registering an increase in requests for after the Christmas dates: "There are people who go back to their towns and when they return they will want to know if they have been infected, or others who know that on New Year's Eve a few of them will meet, and they want to have a test on the 2nd of January or the week after".

False negatives

Most centres offer different types of tests: antigen and PCR tests for active infections, or serological tests to detect antibodies. "But you always have to follow the instructions of a doctor, who will recommend one test or another depending on each case", stresses the doctor, who also warns that, in asymptomatic patients, antigen tests can give false negatives and gives a recent example: "Last week five kids came in, the doctor recommended they have a PCR because they had no symptoms and are more reliable than antigen tests. They didn't want to, because they cost more money, and it came out negative", the manager continues. "But after four days they came back and tested positive. And in these days between tests, they infected friends and family because the first test was negative".

For this reason, she insists on the message that was launched by the government authorities: "Taking a test is not a passport to meet relatives safely". Because, in addition to false negatives, it is also possible to be tested in the first days of infection, when the viral load is very low and the test does not detect it.

Even so, there is an open debate amongst experts, with no consensus, on whether the entire population should be tested before Christmas to prevent contagion during meals and family gatherings.