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What to Know about At-Home Testing for COVID-19

In the early days of the pandemic, testing options were limited to send-out PCR tests, which required laboratory analysis for processing.


While highly accurate, these tests usually require an office visit or a drive-up swab and can take a few days to generate results.


Today, there are a number of different testing options available, including at-home COVID-19 tests that give results in just 15 minutes.


These self-administered tests can be a great way to rule out or confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis and can give you additional peace of mind before returning to work/school or visiting a vulnerable loved one.


What is a self-test for COVID-19?

Unlike many things related to the pandemic, a self-test is as simple as it sounds: it’s a COVID-19 test that you administer on your own, without a medical professional.


The most common self-test for COVID-19 is a rapid antigen test, which is designed to identify if you have COVID-19 and are infectious.


These tests are different from PCR tests, which require laboratory analysis and a day or two’s wait to receive your results.


Self-tests for COVID-19 can be a great way to quickly detect COVID-19 infection, without requiring a trip to your doctor’s office or local testing site.


Are COVID-19 self-tests accurate?

Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 aren’t as accurate as PCR tests, but they’re still quite accurate.


In fact, a recent study found that rapid antigen tests were 87% accurate in symptomatic patients and 71% accurate in asymptomatic patients.


Rapid tests are particularly good at identifying high levels of the virus – this means they’re a good way to identify individuals who are actively shedding virus and have a higher risk spreading COVID-19.


While false negatives are possible, a false negative likely means that the level of the virus is too low for you to be infectious and risk transmitting the virus to others.


Are at-home COVID-19 tests covered by insurance?

Beginning January 15, 2022, private health insurers in the United States are required to cover eight FDA-authorized test kits per covered individual per month.


The experience of getting test kits from a retail store will vary depending on your insurance: some insurers allow patients to get test kits from an approved pharmacy with no upfront expense, while others require patients to submit a receipt and get reimbursed for the cost of the test kits.


Patients should check with their insurer to determine whether the insurer provides direct coverage for test kits (no upfront cost) or if the patient will need to submit a claim for reimbursement.


If you're required to submit a claim, make sure you keep the receipt from your test kit purchase.


When should I take a COVID-19 self-test?

Consider taking a self-test before spending time with at-risk individuals or, as the CDC recommends, before attending an indoor gathering with individuals who aren’t members of your household.


If possible, you may want to take a self-test after those gatherings as well for additional peace of mind.


Additionally, self-testing is recommended after traveling or after a potential exposure to an individual infected with COVID-19 - even if you’re fully vaccinated.


What else should I know?

Keep the following tips in mind to help ensure that you get an accurate result from your self-test:

Wash your hands thoroughly before conducting the test.

Carefully read all of the instructions that accompany your test - different brands may require you to take different steps.

Prior to taking the test, check the expiration date to ensure that the test is still valid.

Avoid storing your tests in extreme temperatures. The instructions accompanying your test will have further details on the ideal storage conditions.

Don’t reuse any parts of your test kit, and don’t open the test kit until you’re ready to administer the test.


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