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 $12 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, Abbott, Cue Health, 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.
What Rapid at-Home COVID-19 Tests Are Available?
Rapid at-home tests available over the counter include:
BinaxNOW. It’s an antigen test, which means it’s able to detect any viral antigen in your body. If there is, it means that you have a current COVID-19 infection. It can be purchased online or at drugstores. Using their eMEd site or a phone app, you’ll login. Here, an expert will guide you through how to test yourself with a nasal swab. You receive results in about 15 minutes.
QuickVue. Also an over-the-counter antigen test, you get two tests for about $25. After you swab, you put the swab in a solution and wait 10 minutes. You then put a paper strip in the solution, which changes color to indicate positive or negative.
Cue. This is a molecular COVID-19 test and should be available without a prescription.
ACON Laboratories Flowflex. The FDA issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for this antigen test in early October 2021.
This test isn’t available yet, but by the end of this year, the manufacturer plans to have more than 100 million over-the-counter tests produced per month, which will later extend to 200 million per month by February 2022.
Rapid at-home tests available by prescription include:
Ellume. This one costs about $30. It uses an app to guide you through the process using a nasal swab, and results are known within 15 minutes.
Lucira Health’s All-In-One. Costing less than $50, it requires you to 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.
Are at-Home Tests Accurate?
With all COVID-19 tests, you could get a false negative or false positive. This means that you could get a negative result and still have the virus, or a positive result and not actually have COVID-19.
To get the most accurate result with your at-home test, 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.
You must complete your at-home test properly to get the most accurate results. 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 to do preparation steps before your test or swab incorrectly, you could cause the virus, if present, to go undetected in the test.
What Are the Risks of the at-Home COVID Tests?
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. In addition to false positives, false negatives, and testing mistakes, you should be aware of:
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. You should also let your doctor know if you reported a positive test with an app.
What Are Some Other COVID-19 Testing Options?
The FDA is allowing use of a home saliva test from the Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory. You need a doctor’s prescription to get it. You spit into a vial and mail it to a lab, so it’s not a rapid test.
If you don't want to do a test at home, a medical professional may be able to test you depending on your symptoms, 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-through test location, or staying at home and away from other people to avoid spreading the disease.