In-Depth: Q&A on At-Home COVID-19 tests

At home covid test
Posted at 2:44 PM, Oct 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-07 14:44:37-04

TAMPA, Fla. — As the holiday season nears and travel begins to pick up again and employer mandate deadlines hit; the need for more COVID-19 testing may reach a critical point soon.

The White House ordered $1 billion worth of tests and at-home tests have recently been flying off the shelves of stores in multiple cities. ABC Action News goes in-depth to help you understand your options, the costs, how the tests work, and more.

What are self-tests for COVID-19?

As the name suggests, self-tests are performed by you at home, or anywhere. These tests are also called a “home test” or an “at-home tests.” The tests are typically available by prescription or over the counter without a prescription. It’s important to remember, the at-home or self-tests are only used for the detection of current infection.

How do the tests work?

Most at-home tests use either a nasal swab or saliva specimen that is then used with a test strip to determine the results. It’s crucial that you read all the instructions for any at-home test you use and follow the manufacturer’s directions exactly as written.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer an in-depth view of how the tests work.

How much do at-home tests cost?

The price of the tests can vary, but the lowest price CVS had on its site was $23.99 for the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen self-test. The prices can go up to $124.99 for some tests. The pricing issues were part of the genesis of President Joe Biden’s plan to spend more than $1 billion on self-tests. Some will be freely distributed as the White House hopes to open 10,000 distribution sites in the next few weeks and eventually 20,000 distribution sites.

What is the difference between an antigen test and a PCR test?

A PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is a molecular test and is still the most widely used by health care professionals and done in a health care setting. According to Yale University Medicine, the PCR tests look for COVID-19’s RNA (ribonucleic acid). The tests are “quite sensitive,” Yale reported, but can still vary. The tests are typically sent to labs for the actual test.

An antigen test is simpler and is like a pregnancy test. The tests search for pieces of protein from the COVID-19 virus. The sample is typically treated with a reagent and analyzed immediately. However, Yale Medicine said the antigen test requires a higher level of virus in the test sample which can sometimes lead to a false negative. Other issues have sometimes led to false positives in some tests.

What tests have been approved for home use?

The tests that have been approved so far have been given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has a full list of devices that are available for use by labs and at-home you can find at this link: FDA list of approved tests

What do I do if I tested positive?

According to the CDC, if you test positive, you should isolate yourself at home and isolate yourself away from others for at least 10 days, but also has other recommendations and suggestions.

If you do not have any symptoms, you should still isolate at home for at least 10 days.

If you develop symptoms, continue to isolate for at least 10 days after symptoms began as long as symptoms have improved, and no fever is present for at least 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.

Most people have mild COVID-19 illness and can recover at home without medical care.

Contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you are more likely to get very sick because of being an older adult or having underlying medical conditions or if your symptoms get worse.

You should also talk to your doctor or local health department to find out how long to isolate if you:

  • Are severely ill with COVID-19 or have a weakened immune system;
  • Had a positive test result followed by a negative result; or
  • Test positive for many weeks after the initial result.

My at-home test came back negative, am I in the clear?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19:

  • You may have received a false-negative test result and still might have COVID-19. You should isolate yourself away from others.
  • Contact your healthcare provider about your symptoms, especially if they worsen, about follow-up testing, and how long to isolate.

If you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, and you were exposed to a person with COVID-19:

  • You are likely not infected, but you still may get sick.
  • Self-quarantine at home for 14 days after your exposure.
  • Persons who are fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine do not need to self-quarantine at home
  • For residents of non-healthcare congregate settings (e.g. correctional and detention facilities, group homes) and employees of residential congregate settings and high-density workplaces (e.g. meat and poultry processing and manufacturing plants), refer to CDC’s recommendations for fully vaccinated people.
  • Contact your local health department regarding options to reduce the length of quarantine. If symptoms develop during home quarantine:
  • Contact your healthcare provider about follow-up testing; and
  • Isolate at home separated away from others.

If you do not have symptoms of COVID-19 and do not have a known exposure to a person with COVID-19:

  • You do not need to self-quarantine.

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1; CDC 2; Food and Drug Administration 1; FDA 2; FDA 3; Yale University Medicine; Reuters; STAT News