At-Home Covid Testing Is Here

But does it work?

By Wudan Yan

In case you missed it: You can now get tested for the coronavirus in the comfort of your own home.

This is great news, especially for people who don’t have access to a testing site. Currently, these portable tests come in two flavors. The first is test-by-mail kits, which allow patients to swab their noses at home and mail them to a laboratory for a result in a day or two. The other types are called at-home tests, which give an answer on the spot.

Currently, the United States Food and Drug Administration has authorized dozens of test-by-mail kits, and three at-home tests.

These tests are not nearly as accurate as those taken in a clinic, but experts say coronavirus tests that can be done at home play an important role as the country continues to reopen. “They get actionable information in people’s hands quickly,” said Jennifer Bacci, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy.

Of course, no coronavirus diagnostic test is 100 percent accurate. Even the gold-standard nasopharyngeal swab, given at many clinics, can return a negative result even though you might be carrying the coronavirus. And these tests only inform you about a single point in time. But even if home tests may be less accurate, they can quickly alert people if they test positive.

Certainly the market for home test kits will likely grow, said Gigi Gronvall, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University. But with more options, consumers will need to learn what test is best for them.

Here are some key questions to consider when deciding on an at-home testing kit.

What are the trade-offs between mail-in kits and fully at-home tests?

Test-by-mail kits require users to purchase a kit, take a sample at home and ship the swab back to a lab. These kits take more processing time and use a method called polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., to detect coronavirus.

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