During the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of Americans tested for the virus was relatively low. The inadequate diagnostic testing capacity caused this. 

Although the supply of testing equipment is better, there is still a deficit due to increased demand. The tracing of infected individuals remains a fundamental step in reducing the number of new infections.

The dominance of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has led to increased demand for at-home testing kits. It is possible to order these tests and use them without visiting any health care expert or facility. 

Several companies in America are selling the FDA-authorized at-home test kits. Since these tests are now available, some wonder − how accurate are the at home COVID tests?

When and How to Use Them

The at-home COVID 19 test is available in two types:

  1. Molecular (PCR) test
  2. Antigen test

The molecular test identifies the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in your sample, while the antigen test identifies particular proteins found on the virus’s surface.

Most of this at-home testing equipment has been issued a EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) from the FDA.  However, a EUA is not a guarantee that the merchandise is officially FDA-approved. It only allows for the unapproved product to be used during a health crisis.

There are different kinds of authorizations given for these at-home tests. One is the at-home collection only, whereby you gather the sample only and send it to a lab for testing. The other authorization is entirely at home (also called self-test). This is when you do everything at home, from gathering the sample to testing.

The FDA-authorized at-home testing for COVID-19 that you can get on the market includes the following:

  • Pixel by LabCorp
  • EverlyWell
  • Vault
  • Vitagene
  • LetsGetChecked
  • Picture by Fulgent Genetics
  • P23 Labs

To carry out an at-home collection PCR test, you are required to complete a questionnaire or online consultation to verify your COVID-19 risk.

Afterward, a test is sent to you accompanied by directives on collecting the specimen. You take a nasal swab or spit it into a vial to get the sample.

Send the sample to the lab for testing. A company employee receives it, works on it, and 1-2 days later, you receive the results through an app, email, or the phone.

There are a couple of fully at-home PCR tests, some examples are Cue COVID-19 and Lucira Check It COVID-19 tests.

In such tests, you perform everything individually and receive the feedback within 30 minutes or less.

A rapid at-home antigen test is suitable for those people exposed to the virus and want to confirm, especially if symptoms have started manifesting

It can also be useful if you want additional assurance before interacting with a vulnerable relative or after visiting a virus hotspot.

A rapid test is carried out by taking a nasal swab to get a sample. Then you expose the swab with specimens to the included chemicals and wait for the results of the home COVID test. It usually takes 10 to 15 minutes to receive the rapid test results. 

Experts advise that if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can take the rapid antigen test immediately. Still, if you only have guaranteed exposure, you need to wait 3-4 days before taking the test. Testing too soon before the virus replicates may give you a false negative.

You should take it more than once to increase your chances of getting accurate results when using the rapid antigen test. If you get a negative result after guaranteed exposure to the virus or manifesting COVID-19 symptoms, you need to retake the test 1-2 days later. You can never be sure of the exact time when the virus breached your immune system and took up residence.

It is improbable for a rapid antigen test to give a false positive result. This is because they are concrete.

However, a false positive result can occur if the prevalence of the virus is low. In such cases, you may take a second test.

You do not have to wait for the second test result before taking precautions. Isolate yourself, monitor the symptoms, and seek medical attention.

What Is Their Accuracy?

PCR tests have a minimal chance of producing a false negative. This is because they work by replicating sections of the virus, allowing them to detect even the slightest amount of virus in your body.

They sometimes continue testing positive long after you have recovered.

Antigen tests are less sensitive compared to PCR tests. A study showed that antigen tests correctly diagnosed 72% of the people with COVID-19.

These antigen tests are most accurate when people already show symptoms, and the viral load is relatively high. Antigen tests are more likely to give false negatives. Although you are carrying out the test at home, alerting the local health authorities about any positive results is essential.

If you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and test negative using the rapid at-home antigen test, you still have to undergo the more sensitive PCR test. You need to remember that a negative at-home antigen test is reliable for eight to twelve hours and does not guarantee that you are COVID-19-free. 

The Availability of a Home COVID Test

Most states in the US have a shortage of test kits. The Omicron variant has increased the demand for at-home test kits even though these kits are legalized and valid all over the US.

The Biden Administration, through American Rescue Plan, is working towards reducing the cost of the kits, increasing access, and availing more tests in the market. More manufacturers are getting FDA authorization meaning the tests will be more available. 

Does Insurance cover At-Home COVID-19 Tests?

Insurance companies are mandated to cover the costs of over-the-counter, FDA-authorized, at-home COVID-19 tests as of January 15, 2022.

Insurance companies receive incentives from the government to cover the costs upfront, thus simplifying the process. However, some insurance companies do not cover the cost upfront. You will have to submit your receipt or more for reimbursement in this instance. Insurance companies will cover PCR tests if they are deemed a necessity medically.

It is vital to test yourself for the COVID-19 virus. This is part of the measures put in place to protect yourself and others from the spread of the virus. Home testing kits offer convenience to most of us with access to the equipment.

Due to the surge in the Omicron variant, it is right to assume that you are infected with COVID-19 if you are manifesting the symptoms, whether vaccinated fully, partially, or unvaccinated. According to the health practitioners, you need to isolate for the recommended time.

If you are exposed with no symptoms but fully vaccinated and boosted, you do not have to quarantine.

However, you may need to take the tests four, five, or six days after the exposure. Again, you might be exposed and vaccinated but not boosted; you will have to quarantine for the initial five days after exposure, wear masks, and quarantine for five more days afterward. The quickly spreading Omicron variant still poses a threat to you.  

It is essential to receive the COVID 19 vaccine and boosters. They protect against the virus and reduce your chances of serious illness, hospitalization, or death. But you can still get infected after a full vaccination. This is because the vaccine protection reduces with time or because a new variant (such as Omicron) can get around the vaccine’s protective components.

Getting infected when fully vaccinated is referred to as a breakthrough infection. Mild COVID 19 symptoms characterize it compared to those of the unvaccinated. Two organizations are working together to streamline the approval process so that more companies manufacture test kits and avail them in the market sooner. These organizations are the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the FDA.   

Taking regular tests may be expensive or even tiresome, but it can go a long way in ensuring we do not expose our loved ones, especially those more vulnerable or children whose ages do not allow for vaccination. The government is doing its part to avail the test kit, but we should do our part and follow the protocols put in place by the health department.