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At Home COVID Tests

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At Home Covid-19 Tests at Walgreens

Testing for Covid-19 plays an important role in helping to reduce the spread. By testing at home before you gather with friends or family or when you feel ill, you can determine with a high degree of certainty whether you have COVID-19, so you can take steps to isolate as needed. Walgreens makes it simple to stock up on home tests with a diverse assortment of options that carry Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

At-Home Antigen Tests for COVID-19

For rapid results, choose antigen at-home COVID tests. These tests detect specific proteins found in the virus in the nasal passages. In just 15 minutes, antigen tests produce positive results if COVID-19 is found in the sample and negative results if a certain virus level is not detectable. Typically, antigen tests are most reliable when they produce positive results, especially when symptoms are present. In some cases, it is possible to have a negative test and still be infected, especially if you are asymptomatic. Some tests instruct to retest three days following a negative test to verify results. Some at-home kits provide enough supplies for you to perform two tests so that you can easily follow this advice.

PCR COVID-19 Tests for Home

At-home PCR tests for COVID-19 offer an overall high degree of accuracy for virus detection. They work by detecting the RNA genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19. With this type of test, you collect a sample and then use an enclosed envelope to mail it away to a laboratory for processing. Normally, you receive results via email or on a secure app within 72 hours of receipt by the lab.

Ensuring Best Results When Testing at Home

Whether you choose to use a PCR or an antigen COVID-19 test at home, you'll need to use the kit correctly to get accurate results. Failure to do so can result in inaccurate/invalid results. Be sure to read the instructions for use carefully and follow them step by step. Tests typically require you to use a swab to gather a sample from the inside of your nostrils. Other tests require a saliva sample.

Most tests feature a control indicator. This is a colored band to indicate the test is working properly. There will be a separate line to indicate if the virus was detected. If you don't see the proper control, the test may be faulty or contaminated, so it is generally best not to use it. Should you receive a positive COVID-19 test result, follow the current guidelines for isolation provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or your healthcare provider. You should also contact your healthcare provider for advice about self-care while you recover from the virus.

Buying COVID-19 Tests Online

Per a program sponsored by the federal government, private insurance companies will now reimburse you for up to eight home COVID-19 tests per covered individual on your plan per month. That means that if you and your partner are both covered under your plan, you can buy up to 16 tests monthly and get the money you spent back from your insurance company. The process for obtaining reimbursement varies from insurer to insurer. Consult your health insurance provider for more information.

What types of COVID tests are available?

There are several types of tests that you can take to determine if you are infected or have been infected with COVID-19:

  • Antigen viral tests: These are the most common type of at-home rapid test although they’re also available at testing facilities. They can usually provide results in 15 minutes. Antigen tests are viral tests that determine whether you have a current COVID-19 infection by detecting part of the virus. Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR tests, so false negative results are more likely. However, a positive result on an antigen test is very likely to be accurate.
  • Molecular viral tests: These include nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT), the most common of which is the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Like antigen tests, COVID-19 molecular tests work by detecting part of the virus. Molecular tests are the most sensitive tests for COVID-19 infection and tend to be more accurate than antigen tests, but the results can take longer, usually 1 to 2 days.
  • Antibody tests: These detect antibodies which indicate a past COVID-19 infection. This test should not be used to determine if you are currently infected with COVID-19.

How accurate are home tests?

Some types of home tests are more accurate than others. NAAT tests, such as the PCR, are more accurate than rapid antigen tests and are less likely to yield a false negative result. That means that if your PCR test result is negative, it is very likely that you don't have COVID-19.

Because rapid antigen tests are less sensitive, some people who are infected with COVID-19 may test negative if they don’t have enough viral load for the test to detect. However, a rapid antigen test that comes back positive is a very accurate indication of a COVID-19 infection.

How accurate are rapid tests?

Most rapid tests are rapid antigen tests, and these are less accurate than the PCR tests. There are "rapid" PCR tests that generate results in as little as 30 minutes to a few hours after swabbing, but these tests are done in a doctor's office or lab, not at home.

Rapid antigen tests are more accurate in someone who has symptoms than in someone who doesn't. False positives are unlikely with rapid antigen tests. This means that if you test positive with a rapid antigen test, you most likely have COVID-19. However, if you test negative with a rapid antigen test, you may still be infected, but may not have a high enough viral load to test positive or to infect others.

What is the difference between an at-home PCR and an at-home antigen test?

At-home antigen tests are conducted at home, and usually provide a result in about 15 minutes. At-home PCR tests are taken at home, but then sent out to a lab, and results usually take days. PCR tests are more sensitive than antigen tests and are typically more accurate. While false positives are unlikely with at-home antigen tests, false negatives are possible.

How accurate are COVID rapid antigen tests?

Rapid antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests. Rapid antigen tests are more accurate in someone who has symptoms than in someone who doesn't. False positives are unlikely with rapid antigen tests, meaning that if you test positive with a rapid antigen test, you most likely have COVID-19.

However, if you test negative with a rapid antigen test, you may still be infected with COVID-19, but may not have a high enough viral load to test positive.

How soon after exposure to COVID-19 should I take an at-home COVID test?

According to the CDC, if you've been exposed to COVID-19, the best time to get tested is at least 5 days after the exposure or if symptoms develop.

How long am I contagious with COVID-19 after testing positive?

Although there is no way to know for sure, the CDC estimates that people infected with COVID-19 are contagious starting 2 days before symptoms develop until 10 days after symptoms start or 10 days from the date of the positive test if they are asymptomatic.

How long will I continue to test positive for COVID-19?

There's currently no way to know for sure how long you will test positive for COVID-19 after you become infected. A PCR test may be positive for 90 days after you initially test positive, while antigen tests may be negative as soon as 5 days after initially testing positive. This does not necessarily mean you are infectious.

Is the swab test painful?

The COVID-19 swab test is not painful, but it can be uncomfortable. There are several ways to collect a specimen:

  • Nasopharyngeal swab: This is collected by a healthcare professional placing a long swab deep into your nostril to collect fluid from the back of your nose or throat.
  • Mid-turbinate nasal swab: A healthcare professional (or you, if coached to do so) inserts a swab straight back into the nostril (less than an inch) to collect the sample.
  • Anterior nasal swab: You or a healthcare professional inserts the swab about 3/4 of an inch into the nostril and twirls it around several times to collect the sample.
  • Oropharyngeal swab: A healthcare professional inserts a swab into the back of the throat to get a sample.
  • Saliva: You place spit into a cup to provide a sample.

The nasopharyngeal swab is usually the most uncomfortable, but it provides the most accurate results. Most rapid antigen at-home tests are designed to work with a nasal swab, not a throat swab.

Is it possible to get a false positive on an at-home COVID test?

False-positive results with rapid antigen at-home tests are unlikely. A positive result with one of these tests means it is very likely you have COVID-19.

Can at-home tests detect variants?

No, COVID-19 tests are designed to detect the virus, but they do not indicate the specific variant of the virus that is detected. [7] As new variants of the virus develop, it’s possible that the chances of false negative results may increase, according to the FDA.

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  5. References

    1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 testing: what you need to know. (Updated Dec. 29, 2021). Accessed January 25, 2022.
    2. Ohio State University Health & Discovery. How accurate are COVID-19 rapid tests? Should you test before holiday gatherings. (Dec. 3, 2021). Accessed January 25, 2022.
    3. Yale Medicine. Which COVID-19 test should you get? (Updated Jan. 20, 2022). Accessed January 26, 2022,
    4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19: Quarantine and isolation. (Updated Jan. 27, 2022). Accessed January 28, 2022.
    5. University of Nebraska-Lincoln. If you are COVID-19 positive, do not retest. (Jan. 19, 2022). January 25, 2022.
    6. National Public Radio. Why rapid COVID tests aren't more accurate and how scientists hope to improve them. (Jan. 23, 2022). Accessed January 26, 2022.
    7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus Disease 2019 Testing Basics. (Feb. 2, 2022). Accessed February 11, 2022.
    8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Genetic Variants of SARS-CoV-2 May Lead to False Negative Results with Molecular Tests for Detection of SARS-CoV-2 - Letter to Clinical Laboratory Staff and Health Care Providers. (Dec. 3, 2021) Accessed February 11, 2022.
    9. "Two major types of tests are available for COVID-19: PCR and Antigen," Kansas Department of Health and Environment. 26 Nov. 2020. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
    10. "Biden-Harris Administration Requires Insurance Companies and Group Health Plans to Cover the Cost of At-Home COVID-19 Tests, Increasing Access to Free Tests," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 10 Jan. 2022. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
    11. "If you've been exposed to the coronavirus," Harvard Health Publishing. Harvard Medical School. 5 Jan. 2022. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
    12. MacMillan. Carrie. "Which COVID-19 Test Should You Get?," Yale Medicine. 20 Jan. 2022. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
    13. "Self testing," U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 29 Dec. 2021. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
    14. ""Quarantine and Isolation," U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 20 Jan. 2022. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
    15. "Approved COVID-19 Home Tests," North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.
    16. ""Why COVID-19 testing is the key to getting back to normal," National Institute on Aging. National Institutes of Health (NIH). 4 Sep. 2020. Web. 21 Jan. 2022.