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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to our lives. In addition to social distancing, masking wearing, and as of December, a vaccination, many people are curious about at-home COVID testing. Is it possible to test for the virus without leaving your home?
As of early October, nine companies offer at-home tests for COVID-19. These tests have been evaluated and provide reliable results, although you’ll need to check with your employer if they require you to submit test results for work.
As a matter of fact, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) worked with some of the testing manufacturers to ensure their testing methods were as safe and accurate as an in-person test. At-home tests claim to have a reliability rate of at least 98% (some are higher) and there are very few instances of these tests providing inconclusive results.
However, it’s important to note that the tests are only FDA-authorized, not FDA-approved. They have not undergone the same method of review and were approved only for the duration of the current health emergency.
At-home tests range in price from about $100 to $150. At-home tests, like in-person testing, usually prioritizes results for people who are symptomatic or who have spent time with someone who tested positive.
What Do At-Home COVID Tests Measure?
There are two different types of COVID-19 testing: The first is a molecular test that detects COVID genetic material in a sample. The second is a serological test, which looks to see if there are COVID antibodies in someone’s blood. The serological test determines if someone is immune to COVID due to the presence of antibodies.
There are currently no at-home serological tests.
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Will an At-Home COVID-19 Test Tell Me If I’ve Recovered from COVID?
At-home tests are not designed to show if you’ve recovered. If an at-home test detects COVID in your system, it likely means you are positive for the virus and could therefore still spread it to others.
To know if you had the virus and recovered you’d need to test positive for it and then negative with an at-home test, or you’d need a serological antibody test, which is not available in an at-home form.
Also, keep in mind, research is in progress and there is no guarantee that you cannot get the virus more than once. The majority of health experts agree that people are immune for at least three to four months after infection.
It’s also important to discuss your at-home test results with your doctor. If you’ve undergone at-home testing to confirm you’ve been infected with the virus and you’d like an antibody test after you recover, your doctor should be able to help you with that.
Regardless of whether you were recently infected with COVID and recovered or if you test positive for antibodies, you should continue to follow health and PPE guidelines in your area.
Should I Get Retested If I Tested Negative with an At-Home COVID Test?
The simplest answer to this question is “maybe.” It all depends on your circumstances. If your employer requires ongoing testing or you spend time with someone with a compromised immune system, it’s a good idea to occasionally get tested. This is especially true if you have not ever tested positive.
Remember, a negative test doesn’t guarantee you don’t have COVID.
If you test too soon after exposure, there’s a chance your test will be negative even if you have the virus. It usually takes about a week, but sometimes longer, for your body to show signs of infection. You might even still develop symptoms, even if you feel fine for several days after exposure.
Regardless of symptoms or a negative test, it’s possible to spread the virus during this time, which is why the CDC asks that people quarantine for 10 days following close contact with someone potentially infected with COVID-19. Close contact includes:
- Coming within six feet of someone for 15 minutes or more of someone with the virus
- Being a caregiver for someone with COVID
- Having direct physical contact with someone no matter how short of a period (hugging or kissing)
- Sharing drinking or eating utensils with an infected person
- They sneezed, coughed, or got respiratory droplets on you
The CDC further explains that if you test negative on day five or later after exposure, you only need to quarantine for seven total days. However, you should pay careful attention to the development of any symptoms, regardless of how long you need to quarantine. Also, keep in mind, your local health guidelines might differ from those of the CDC.
If you have had COVID during the last three months, you do not need to quarantine, as long as you experience no new symptoms.
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CDC. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/testing/serology-overview.html.
CDC. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/quarantine.html.