SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Department of Health provides free at-home COVID-19 testing for those who want it. This is done through a partnership with Vault Health, a virtual health care company.

KELOLAND News spoke with state epidemiologist Dr. Josh Clayton to learn more about the partnership and the testing process.

“The South Dakota Department of Health last November purchased test kits from Vault Health,” Clayton said. “Individuals can request their kit from Vault Health — that kit will come to you.”

Clayton went on to describe the process for completing the test, which entails a virtual zoom meeting with a Vault technician who will supervise the taking of the test. After completing the test, the sample is mailed back to Vault before receiving your results within 1-2 days.

Reasons for ordering a test include recent or upcoming travel, a known exposure to the virus and other situations, but these are not required for ordering a test.

“Go ahead and order your kit now,” said Clayton. “That decreases that delay in getting the kit to you.”

When it comes to at-home testing, the state is not the only option available to consumers, with tests available for purchase at places such as Walmart and other retailers. However, according to Clayton, there are some advantages to going through the DOH to get your tests.

“The Vault Health [tests] are an option that’s free and available to all South Dakotans,” said Clayton. “There are a couple differences in terms of the tests themselves — with the Vault Health [test], it is a PCR test. Most of the at-home tests are antigen-based tests.”

The main difference between the tests provided by Vault through the state are that they will be sent to a laboratory for testing and results, whereas the antigen tests are able to provide a positive or negative result in minutes.

While Vault’s PCR tests are different from the antigen-based tests most often available in stores, Clayton says that people who purchased at-home tests should still feel secure in their results. “If it’s positive, follow through and isolate and so on.”

PCR and antigen tests can also be good for different things. “PCR is a method where you’re amplifying or multiplying what might be there for the genetic material of the virus,” explained Clayton. “Typically, with the antigen tests, you’re looking at that spike protein on the surface of the virus itself.”

Clayton says one way the tests differ is that the PCR tests are more sensitive, but that the antigen tests better reflect when a person is actively contagious.

Another main difference between a store-bought and state provided at-home test is what happens with the results. When you take a test at home that is not collected through the state or in a health-care setting, those results, whether positive or negative, will not be provided to the state. The Vault tests on the other hand will be reported, adding your information to the COVID-19 data collected by the state.

Beyond ordering tests, which Clayton encourages everyone to do, there are also general precautions that can be taken.

“Make sure that you’re monitoring your symptoms, staying at home if you’re ill, wearing a mask and making sure that you’re washing your hands,” said Clayton. “We also want to make sure that individuals are able to get vaccinated which really helps decrease the risk of infection, hospitalization and death.”

KELOLAND News is currently in the middle of the state home-testing process. We ordered a test on the morning of Thursday, January 6, and will be taking it once it arrives, bringing you along with us every step of the way.

As of 4:25pm Monday, January 10, our test has not yet shipped.