There are several options for at-home tests that can tell you if you have COVID-19, the illness caused by a coronavirus. They include home collection kits, which are then sent to a lab for analysis, as well as a few new rapid tests that give your results at home within minutes.
The at-home self-collection kits generally cost from $100 to $150 and can be found in some drugstores and retailers. Some tests may be covered under insurance, but others aren’t. Several major lab companies supply the kits, including LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics, and P23 Labs. You register the kit online with the test's company, take your own swab, and express-ship it back. Test results are received either online or by email or text within 24 to 48 hours after the lab receives the test.
The rapid tests include:
BinaxNOW. You order through a phone app with a doctor's prescription. When the kit arrives, you log into an eMed, site, which then guides you through how to test yourself with a swab.
Ellume. This one needs a prescription and costs about $30. It uses an app to guide you through the process of using a swab.
Lucira Health’s All-In-One. Costing less than $50, it requires a prescription. You collect a sample through a swab that you then put in a vial of solution. You then put the vial into a portable, battery-operated device. Within 30 minutes, a light on the device indicates negative or positive.
If you don't want to do a test at home, a medical professional may be able to test you, depending on your symptoms, other risk factors, and whether you’ve been exposed to the virus. Here’s what to do if you think you need to be tested:
- Call your doctor, clinic, or hospital and let them know you think you may have COVID-19 symptoms.
- Tell them if you are older than 60 or have another health condition, like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.
- Be ready to describe your symptoms and if you think you’ve been exposed to the virus.
Your doctor or hospital will tell you what to do next. This could include going to a clinic, going to a drive-thru test location, or staying at home away from other people to avoid spreading the disease.
Risks of the at-Home Test
At-home COVID-19 tests can be a helpful option for those who can’t go to a test site. But there are some important things to know about this form of testing:
False positives and negatives. Just like other COVID-19 tests, it’s possible to get a negative result when you still have the virus, or a positive result when you really don’t have it. To get the most accurate outcome, wash your hands and disinfect the surface of your testing site before you start. Follow the instructions on the test very carefully.
Keep your test properly stored, as the directions state, until you’re ready to use it. Never use an expired, damaged, discolored, or used test.
It’s also important that you protect your completed test. Don’t let it sit by a heater or in the sun.
Doing the test correctly. Without the guidance of a doctor, it can be easy to swab yourself incorrectly, whether orally or nasally. Studies show that self-given tests done without a clinician were less accurate than those done with a clinician.
If you forget preparation steps before your test or swab incorrectly, you could cause the virus, if present, to go undetected in the test.
Testing for variants. While at-home tests seem to be able to find variants of COVID-19 as well, researchers still need more information from test manufacturers to make sure. if your at-home test reads positive, it’s best to let your doctor know and possibly also have your results verified by a PCR test. This way, you can get proper treatment as soon as possible, especially if you have a variant that may make you sicker than the original virus.
Proper reporting. Some tests require that you have access to a smartphone or laptop to report your test results. Since it’s up to the user to do so, this can lead to some cases going unreported. It’s important that you let your doctor know if you have a positive test result. They’ll be able to notify the state health department. Some at-home tests also allow you to send in your results through an app. It’s also important to let your doctor know if you reported a positive test with an app.