Containment measures employed during the COVID-19 pandemic included prompt recognition of cases, isolation, and contact tracing. Bilateral nasal (NA) swabs applied to a commercial antigen-based rapid diagnostic test (Ag-RDT) offer a simpler and more comfortable alternative to nasopharyngeal (NP) collection; however, little is known about the sensitivity of this method in an asymptomatic population. Participants in community-based asymptomatic testing sites were screened for SARS-CoV-2 using an Ag-RDT with NP sampling. Positive individuals returned for confirmatory molecular testing and consented to repeating the Ag-RDT using a bilateral NA swab for comparison. Residual test buffer (RTB) from Ag-RDTs was subjected to real-time reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR). Of 123,617 asymptomatic individuals, 197 NP Ag-RDT-positive participants were included, with 175 confirmed positive by RT-PCR. Of these cases, 154 were identified from the NA swab collection with Ag-RDT, with a sensitivity of 88.0% compared to the NP swab collection. Stratifying results by RT-PCR cycle threshold demonstrated that sensitivity of the nasal collection method varied based on the cycle threshold (CT) value of the paired RT-PCR sample. RT-PCR testing on the RTB from the Ag-RDT using NP and NA swab collections resulted in 100.0% and 98.7% sensitivity, respectively. NA swabs provide an adequate alternative to NP swab collection for use with Ag-RDT, with the recognition that the test is most sensitive in specimens with high viral loads. With the high sensitivity of RT-PCR testing on RTB from Ag-RDT, a more streamlined approach to confirmatory testing is possible without recollection or use of paired collections strategies. IMPORTANCE Nasal swabbing for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) comes with many benefits but is slightly less sensitive than traditional nasopharyngeal swabbing; however, confirmatory lab-based testing could be performed directly from the residual buffer from either sample type.
Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; antigen; nasal; nasopharyngeal; rapid.