With the accuracy, convenience, and widespread availability of rapid at-home tests, and a significant decrease in demand for drive-through PCR testing, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) recently announced a shift in its COVID-19 testing strategy toward at-home rapid antigen tests across South Carolina beginning March 1.
A prime driver of these changes is that with increased availability of rapid antigen testing, it is now the most effective testing tool to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and help people make informed decisions about whether to isolate.
This is due to the speed and accuracy of rapid antigen tests, which allow individuals to test anytime, without waiting for a testing center to be open, and immediately isolate if sick and prevent the potential spread that was possible during the PCR waiting process. They also make testing more convenient, since people will no longer have to travel to a testing site. With the increased availability of rapid tests, DHEC officials said they are pleased to be able to make this change.
DHEC’s primary role with COVID-19, as with all other disease outbreaks, is to protect public health by providing accurate information and ensuring access to resources including testing and treatment which reduce the impact of disease on all South Carolinians.
South Carolina is now seeing a decrease in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations from the peak of the Omicron surge. As the virus continues to trend toward an endemic, screening testing is no longer necessary or recommended in most instances.
That is why DHEC’s testing efforts going forward will focus on those who need to be tested either because a) they are currently symptomatic or b) have been exposed as a close contact to someone with the disease.
In addition, because at-home testing is not reportable, DHEC will no longer report daily case counts as of March 15. However, DHEC will continue to report hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19, which are the most accurate indicators of disease severity and the impact of COVID-19 on our state. In addition, since trends over time are the most effective way to identify changes in the impact of COVID-19, this data will be reported on a weekly basis.
DHEC is confident that these changes will ensure South Carolinians continue to have the resources and information they need to make informed decisions and protect themselves and their families from COVID-19. In addition, vaccination continues to be the most effective way to prevent COVID-19, and DHEC will continue to ensure vaccination is readily available across the state.
The following changes in DHEC’s COVID-19 testing strategy will occur in stages, beginning March 1:
• March 1-14: Gradual closure of DHEC-managed vendor testing sites in all counties with five or more non-DHEC PCR test providers such as primary care providers, pharmacies, federally qualified health centers, hospitals, mobile providers, etc.
• March 15: Change the frequency and type of data reporting to once per week rather than every weekday to best track where the virus’ impact is most severe.
• March 14-April 1: Gradual closure of DHEC-managed vendor testing sites in all counties with 2-4 non-DHEC PCR test providers.
• April 1: Begin closure of DHEC-operated PCR sites except in counties where DHEC is the only PCR-test provider or only other such provider. In those areas, DHEC also will provide mobile rapid antigen testing services.
DHEC will continue to follow the science and update our guidelines and response to COVID-19 as conditions change. DHEC officials anticipate announcing updates to contact tracing and school guidance soon.