Senior Health

10/11/2021 | By Seniors Guide Staff

While the delta variant continues to increase the number of coronavirus cases worldwide, health experts have worked to find multiple ways to test for the virus that causes COVID-19. One method, at-home testing, allows individuals to get results without exposing themselves or healthcare workers to possible infection.

At-home COVID tests are fast and convenient, but they come with a few downsides. Those who have recently been infected with the virus may show a negative result, while those same people will indicate positive using the lab-based test. The primary issue with at-home tests is their lower sensitivity. In other words, their ability to detect small amounts of the virus is not as reliable as lab-based tests.

Testing provides an essential tool for reducing the spread of COVID-19. Here is what you need to know about at-home COVID tests:

What types of at-home COVID tests are available?

While some tests can detect past infection or immunity, the ability to test for an active coronavirus infection is what’s most critical. Active infections can be passed on from one person to another, and the two tests used to diagnose them are molecular and antigen tests.

Molecular at-home COVID tests

By using a throat, nasal, or saliva swab, molecular tests check bodily fluids for specific genes, proteins, or other molecules. The first at-home molecular test for COVID-19 approved by the FDA is the Lucira COVID-19 All-In-One Test Kit. It works by swirling the self-collected sample swab in a vial placed in the test unit.

The results (positive or negative) are ready in 30 minutes or less on the unit’s display. The FDA has approved the test for anyone 14 years old and over and for adult collection for children ages 2 to 13.

Anyone who tests negative but has COVID-like symptoms should follow up with a healthcare provider since negative results do not always rule out COVID-19.

Antigen tests

Antigen tests can also identify active coronavirus infections. These tests find small protein fragments called antigens that the virus sheds. Commonly used to diagnose respiratory pathogens, these tests provide results in minutes.

Antigen tests are especially valuable for screening in high-risk congregate settings where repeat testing could quickly identify the virus and allow for infection prevention and control measures. In this setting where a rapid test turnaround time is needed, there is added value in the immediate results from antigen tests.

How do I know if I should test?

If you have coronavirus symptoms or have had a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, you should be tested – regardless of your vaccination status.

The CDC recommends quarantining for unvaccinated people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. (Close contact means within six feet of someone for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.) People who are fully vaccinated do NOT need to quarantine, says the CDC, unless they have symptoms. If they experience symptoms, they should isolate themselves from others and be tested.

When is the best time to test?

The CDC recommends testing immediately upon experiencing symptoms.

If you’re testing because of contact with someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, however, get tested three to five days after exposure, and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until receiving a negative test result after the four-to-five-day window.

Molecular tests are considered more sensitive than antigen tests, but they can still give a negative result if performed too early or too late after being infected. Experts have discovered that it takes an average of four to five days for the virus to reach peak levels in the upper respiratory tract. So, the ideal time to test is four to five days after possible exposure. Testing too early or late can yield a false negative result.

Where can I find in-home COVID test kits, and what do they cost?

Various at-home COVID-19 test kits are available at Target, CVS, Walgreen, Walmart, and other pharmacies and retailers. Here are some recent retail prices for popular kits:

  • Ellume COVID-19 Test Kit – $26.10
  • Quidel QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 Test – $24.95
  • BinaxNOW Antigen Self Test – $14.00
  • InteliSwab COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Test – $14.00

How accurate are the at-home tests?

Since timing can affect the reliability of the test results, the best indicator of when the virus is present in our respiratory tract is having coronavirus symptoms, such as a cough and fever. Most at-home tests are sanctioned for use in patients with “signs or symptoms” of COVID-19, and studies have shown that the sensitivity of antigen tests is improved when symptoms are present.

It might be relatively clear when exposure occurred with asymptomatic individuals and, therefore, when to complete a test. For example, you attend a small gathering and find out the next day that someone there has tested positive for COVID-19.

When something like that occurs, doing an at-home test four to five days after the gathering would give you the best chance of receiving an accurate reading. (Quarantining in the meantime is also advisable.) However, in other asymptomatic situations, getting accurate results from at-home tests is much more challenging.

Next steps if you test positive

If you test positive for COVID-19, contact a doctor immediately, isolate, and inform any close contacts. Since at-home tests can be inaccurate, especially in people without symptoms, having a lab-based test to confirm the results is important. Also, contacting a doctor and getting confirmation ensures your case is tracked and increases the chance that you will receive the proper treatment if you need it.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff