At-Home COVID-19 Testing Is Convenient, But Here's What Else to Consider

If the time between when you request your test kit and when get your result is long, it could be faster to get tested in person

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What to Know

  • The FDA announced Tuesday that they approved the first at-home diagnostic COVID-19 test. It gives results in 30 minutes.
  • A number of companies offer at-home kits you use to collect a sample to send to a lab. You then get results within days. 
  • Here’s a guide to at-home COVID-19 test kits.

Update (Dec. 15, 2020): The FDA authorized on Dec. 15 an at-home COVID-19 test that will be available without a prescription. Tests from the Australian company Ellume will cost about $30 and be available online and at drug stores, the company said. Go here to learn more

You can now get tested for COVID-19 without having to leave home, and U.S. regulators announced Tuesday that you’ll soon be able to get tested without even having to mail a sample to a lab — but there are several factors to consider as you weigh your options. 

Look at the testing turnaround time, the convenience, the cost and whether you think you can perform the at-home test correctly, said Dr. Jason E. Farley, an infectious disease-trained nurse epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“At-home testing could be right for you; you just have to think through all the various reasons,” Farley told NBC Washington. "Convenience might be the reason."

If there's a long wait between requesting your at-home test kit and obtaining your result, it could be faster to get tested in person at your doctor’s office or at a public site.

Here’s a guide to at-home COVID-19 testing.

If You Think You Could Have COVID-19
First, if you think you could have the virus, wear a mask and limit your contact with others immediately; don't wait until you get a positive result. 

“If you’re thinking you need a test, that’s when you should change your behavior,” Farley said. 

Contact a medical professional and seek immediate treatment if your symptoms are acute. 

The Basics of At-Home Testing
A number of companies now offer at-home collection kits, including LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics, Everlywell and Hims & Hers. Tests that use your nasal secretions, saliva and blood are available. With at-home collection kits, you don’t get your results from the kit itself; you need to send your sample to a lab.

The FDA announced Tuesday night that they approved the first at-home diagnostic COVID-19 test. A kit by the California company Lucira Health will let a user swab their nose, stir the swab in a vial and get results within 30 minutes. It was approved for prescription use only and initially only will be available in a limited number of health care settings in Florida and California. 

The Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit will be available through health care providers nationally by “early spring 2021” and will sell for about $50, the company said in a statement. 

Federal health regulators have already cracked down on illegal, unregulated at-home tests. If you think you’ve seen a fraudulent test, here’s how you can report it to the FDA.

What to Look at If You’re Considering an At-Home Test 
Turnaround Time: Ask who does the testing and how long the turnaround time is, Farley said. If in-person testing with a short turnaround time is available from your doctor or at a public site, that could be better for you. 

Everlywell, for example, says on its website that your kit will be mailed within one or two business days of your request, though expedited shipping is available for an additional cost. Their labs process results six days a week. Results then are available within one or two days. The company warns that “shipping times have been unpredictable recently” and directs customers to the U.S. Postal Service and UPS websites.

The total turnaround time for tests from Pixel by LabCorp was three to five days, Washington, D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said in early November. The city recommended the tests as one of several available options.

Hims & Hers ships tests in one to three days and then results are typically available three to five days after the sample is shipped to the lab, their website says.

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Convenience: Is not having to leave home worth it for you? If so, an at-home test could be a good option, Farley said. Companies are touting at-home tests as a way to skip lines at drive-thru test sites and start the testing process in the comfort of your own home.

Cost: Check whether you pay out of pocket or can use insurance, or if federal funds could cover the cost. 

D.C.’s health department directed residents to at-home tests through Pixel by LabCorp and Safeway Pharmacies, as tested by Phosphorus Diagnostics. The Pixel by LabCorp tests were $119 out of pocket, payable with insurance or payable using public funds for people who are uninsured. 

Other tests cost $140 from Safeway and other Albertsons stores, including Jewel Osco and Vons; $109 from Everlywell; $128 through Quest Diagnostics’ QuestDirect service and $150 through Hims & Hers. (Costs are subject to change and were current as of mid-November.)

How the Sample Is Collected: Check whether the test involves a nasal swab, saliva or blood. Using a swab tends to have the least “user-level error,” Farley said. Saliva tests are probably the next easiest, he said, though he half-jokingly warned that patients’ mouths tend to get very dry as soon as they’re asked to drool. 

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Once You Receive an At-Home Test
If you do opt to take an at-home test, follow the instructions to the letter and send in your specimen for testing ASAP, Farley said. 

Several of the testing companies have videos and phone numbers available if you need help. 

“If you don’t understand the written information or pictures, find other information. Don’t guess,” Farley said. “The better you do the specimen, the better the results will be.” 

What’s Next 
Americans can expect to see more at-home COVID-19 testing, Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said Tuesday. 

“Today’s authorization for a complete at-home test is a significant step toward FDA’s nationwide response to COVID-19,” he said in a statement. “… We look forward to proactively working with test developers to support the availability of more at-home test options.”

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