Do COVID-19 at-home tests really work?
A variety of at-home COVID-19 tests are now available for purchase at your local pharmacy or drug store. But are they accurate? Should you use one if you think you have COVID-19? Infectious disease expert Helmut Albrecht, MD, explained what to know if you’re considering using one.
“Several COVID-19 at-home tests have been given emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Be sure to choose one that is authorized. All at-home COVID-19 tests should state whether the authorization for use has been granted or not,” said Dr. Albrecht.
Where can you find an at-home COVID-19 test and how much do they cost?
Any pharmacy or chain drug store will most likely provide them without a prescription. Although, due to supply and demand, they can sometimes be difficult to find. Some are available online as well. Most range in price from $12–$40, but there are some on the market as high as $120.
Are at-home COVID-19 tests accurate?
Dr. Albrecht said the available at-home tests can be convenient, but they tend to be less sensitive and none of them are 100% accurate. “Their accuracy was determined during a time when there were fewer variants. Some will work, but they’re probably about 20% less accurate than other tests that are less convenient to get,” he said. Most are antigen tests, which tend to be less sensitive and are hampered by a higher false positive rate.
Possible contamination could also occur with a test at home versus a test at a facility, such as an urgent care, where the space is designed to avoid contamination.
How do you use an at-home test?
Most tests are completed just as a rapid test would be taken in a facility, with a nose or mouth swab. Some allow you to mail off your swab to a lab and receive results in 3–4 days, while others provide results within 15 minutes at home.
What is the best option for testing if you think you have COVID-19?
Dr. Albrecht said the best option is to go to a facility that is conducting testing. However, if you are in an area where testing is not available or convenient to you, an at-home test is better than no test at all. “Being tested if you have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 is always a good idea,” he said.
It is important to remember that not all at-home tests have received emergency use authorization, so be sure you are using one that has been authorized for use. Also, remember that getting the vaccine is what will end this pandemic and help us find a new normal. The more people who get vaccinated, the better protection we can all have against COVID-19.
Have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine?
Find answers to frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, including how to get the shot.