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At-home COVID-19 rapid tests could play critical role during pandemic

▶ Watch Video: New home COVID-19 tests give quick results, could fuel frequent testing, help limit virus spread

For Americans, getting tested for the coronavirus just got a little easier. The Food and Drug Administration authorized five over-the-counter COVID-19 tests that can give you results at home in just minutes.

In San Francisco, before watching Steph Curry lead the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center, unvaccinated fans at home games are required to score a negative COVID test either at the arena or before leaving home.

The Warriors are offering ticket-holders the Lucira Test. It’s one of the five over-the-counter COVID-19 tests authorized.

Claire Maldarelli and the team at Popular Science evaluated several at-home test kits. Samples are collected through nasal swabs that don’t have to go too far up the nose. The tests don’t need to be mailed, sent to a lab for analysis, and results are ready in 15 to 30 minutes.

Popular Science found the tests were easy to use, with a small learning curve. Even with negative results, someone with COVID symptoms should check with their doctor because the results of these home tests are not always accurate.

The FDA told CBS News, in order to be authorized, these home tests had to agree with the gold-standard PCR results at least 90% of the time. These five tests met that standard. The convenience of the tests might be enticing to some.

“I think there’s a lot of young people that are like, ‘I don’t wanna go to the doctor’s office,'” Maldarelli told CBS News’ chief medical correspondent Dr. Jonathan LaPook. The same may be true for older people. 

The coronavirus incubation period lasts two to 14 days, so an infected person may not test positive for up to two weeks after exposure. That’s why a second test several days later is suggested by some manufacturers.

“And you could be negative today, have a little bit of virus, and then 36 hours later, there’s a lot more virus. So you test again, and then it’s positive,” LaPook said.

“Exactly. It’s just a snapshot in time,” Maldarelli said.

For those not yet immunized, like school-age children, frequent at-home testing could help curb the spread of COVID-19 but even vaccinated people can carry the virus without having symptoms.

Dr. Michael Mina, an immunologist and epidemiologist at Harvard University, said despite being vaccinated, somebody who’s already been immunized should still care about home testing.

“If I have been vaccinated already and I’m going to go into a nursing home or into a hospital or anywhere where people might still be vulnerable, it is best for me to take a test as long as it’s very accessible…Testing in a pandemic is our eyes. If we don’t have testing, we don’t have eyes on the virus. We don’t know where it is,” Mina said.

The at-home tests are becoming increasingly available online and at major drug stores.

LaPook brought some of the tests he has taken to “CBS This Morning.” He did not endorse them or rank them but said they all appear easy to use, and there is a learning curve to some.

Some of the tests cost between $24 for a 2-pack to about $55.

As for insurance, CBS News checked with several large insurers and found that for the most part, they are covered, but even though they are sold over the counter, a doctor’s prescription might be needed for reimbursement, so it is recommended to check with the insurance carrier.

Mina said he would like the government to subsidize the tests, so the cost is about three dollars. That’s a price point where getting tested every two to three days to pick up early infection would become a lot more practical than it is now.


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