Millions of Americans request free at-home COVID-19 tests, which will soon arrive in their mailboxes. Tests can be ordered in less than a minute. On the renowned new covidtests.gov website, you simply click on the turquoise button. The free at-home COVID-19 tests should arrive within two weeks after entering your address. Each U.S. household is entitled to four free COVID-19 tests administered at home.
In any case, ordering the tests is quick and simple. However, determining when and how to use them or interpret your results is not simple. Home COVID-19 tests, also known as rapid antigen tests, are not as accurate as nasal swab PCR tests, which are significantly more reliable. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a polymerase chain reaction.
Home COVID-19 tests are appealing due to their convenience and accessibility. The test can be administered at home (hence the name), and results can be obtained within 15 minutes. However, it is important to exercise caution when using the results of at-home, rapid tests. They may be applicable in some instances. However, they are not free passes to demonstrate your lack of COVID-19.
What is a COVID-19 home test?
The at-home tests detect COVID-19 virus-associated proteins. These proteins are called antigens, antigen tests, or fast testing for home use. They are not required to be sent to labs to obtain findings. Typically, individuals can see their results within 15 minutes. On the other hand, PCR tests examine the active virus’s genetic material. The test samples must be evaluated in laboratories. This requires a minimum of several hours and up to a few days, depending on how busy the labs are.
Are home-based exams reliable?
About 80% of the time, home examinations are accurate. While a score of 80 percent on an algebra exam may seem acceptable, it is not impressive on the COVID-19 exam. In other words, when a person is infected with COVID-19, the test fails to detect the virus 20% of the time, or 1 out of every five times. The term for this is a false-negative result. In addition, erroneous false-negative results from rapid at-home testing can imperil high-risk persons, such as the elderly, those with cancer, or those with compromised immune systems.
Do not assume that a rapid, at-home test is accurate if you are experiencing symptoms of illness and the result is negative.
Do not assume that a rapid, at-home test is accurate if you have been in close touch with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing symptoms. Especially with the highly contagious omicron type that travels quickly from person to person, if you have close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 and you have any symptoms, it is extremely likely that you have COVID-19.
Do presume that a positive at-home test result is accurate. You most likely do if a quick antigen test indicates that you have COVID-19. False-positive results are uncommon with COVID-19 home tests.
Who should undergo testing?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of vaccination status or infection history, should be examined (CDC).
If you suspect you had close contact with someone who had COVID-19, that is, you were within 6 feet of a person with a confirmed case for at least 15 minutes, you should get tested.
People who tested positive for COVID-19 during the past three months and have recovered do not need to be retested unless they develop new symptoms. Anyone who feels they have COVID-19 can conduct a quick antigen test.
When is the optimal timing to do a quick antigen test?
According to the CDC, antigen testing is most effective in symptomatic individuals and within a particular number of days after the onset of symptoms.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises testing between 3 and 5 days after exposure to COVID-19. The best time to test, according to Cioe-Pea, is the same day you want to know if you have the infection.
To reduce the risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, experts recommend that individuals perform rapid tests before going to work or school, visiting family or friends, or attending large gatherings.
How frequently must I test?
In the United Kingdom, for instance, the National Health Service (NHS) recommends that individuals undergo a quick antigen test twice weekly or every three to four days to determine whether they have COVID-19.
Their recommendation is based on evidence indicating that around one-third of individuals with COVID-19 do not exhibit symptoms.
If possible, Srinivasa Nagalla, MD, founder and chief executive officer of the commercial medical diagnostics company Diabetomics in Beaverton, Oregon, recommended that individuals receive antigen and antibody testing every two months.
Become familiar with distinguishing between a fast antigen test and a PCR test.
Rapid antigen test
The antigen test checks for a COVID-19-causing virus’s protein. This test is straightforward, requires no specialized equipment, and can yield results in as little as 15 minutes.
PCR testing is more sensitive than antigen tests. This indicates that they can be negative even when an individual is diseased. Therefore, even if a rapid antigen test yields a negative result, a person with symptoms must remain at home and away from others until their symptoms subside and adhere to all public health guidelines.
A PCR test looks for the COVID-19-causing virus’s genetic material. It can take one to three days to receive a PCR test result, which can only be performed in a lab by an expert. This test is extremely sensitive and can identify the virus earlier than an antigen test.