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After a record-high spike in COVID-19 cases over the holiday season, we are finally beginning to see declining cases in parts of the U.S., including several Northeast and Midwest states. Despite this, COVID-19 is still rapidly spreading, with Dr. Anthony Fauci predicting the national peak for the omicron variant to come mid-February.
In addition, the new BA.2 variant—also known as the 'stealth' omicron variant—has arrived in the United States. Experts say there is no cause for panic in regard to this new variant as they are predicting it to be relatively mild like the BA.1 omicron variant. Still, early data suggests that BA.2 is even more transmissible than the original omicron variant.
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As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, at-home testing is a crucial tool we should continue to use for identifying and reporting infections. "[At-home COVID-19 tests] are really great public health tools," says Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center.
Pharmacies and grocery chains struggled to keep up with the high demand for COVID-19 tests in the past few weeks, but getting your hands on one now should be a little easier. This may be in part due to the free at-home COVID-19 tests the Biden administration is offering and shipping through USPS. While these at-home COVID-19 tests are free and accessible, you may need to wait a bit of time to receive yours—the administration says tests usually ship in seven to 12 days after placing your order.
If you need a COVID-19 test now or in the immediate future, you may want to pick one up from your local pharmacy or retailer. Thankfully, through your insurer, you can get up to eight COVID testing kits at no cost or get reimbursed for your purchase per a new insurance requirement.
Here's what to know about the different kinds of at-home COVID-19, when you should be testing, where to look for an at-home test and what to do if you can't find an at-home test. Additionally, through your insurer, you can get up to eight COVID testing kits at no cost or get reimbursed for your purchase per a new insurance requirement. If you're looking for at-home COVID-19 tests, here are your options and some additional information you should know about them.
How to get free COVID-19 tests
You can order COVID tests online through the USPS's website. Each U.S. household can access one order of COVD tests, which includes four individual rapid antigen COVID-19 tests. Just enter your name and shipping address—no need to enter any credit card information or another payment method at checkout. From there, orders are expected to be mailed within seven to 12 days.
If you're picking up COVID-19 tests from a local pharmacy or ordering it online from a retailer, you can also get reimbursed for your purchase through your insurance company. You may be able to buy a COVID test at no cost through your insurer or may need to buy a COVID test and submit receipts for reimbursement, depending on your insurance provider's instructions.
Where to buy COVID-19 tests in-store and online
While COVID-19 at-home test availability can be spotty, retailers are working to restock quickly. "We continue to work around the clock to provide our stores with inventory of the five over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests we offer," says Matt Blanchette, retail communications at CVS Pharmacy.
Major retailers sell at-home COVID-19 tests online for anywhere from $9.99 to $38.99 per test kit, but you can get them at no cost through your insurer or get a reimbursement. The Reviewed team will continue to keep this list up-to-date. Prices and stock availability were accurate at the time of publication. Here are COVID-19 tests you can buy online or pick up in-store.
How private is your at-home test?
While all at-home PCR tests (along with other PCR tests performed at pharmacies or testing sites) are sent to a laboratory to process your results, some at-home antigen tests can give you your results from the privacy of your own home. But getting the results of the antigen tests can vary. Some at-home antigen tests use a physical visual reading, such as a color-changing strip, while others require an app or website visit to access results.
If you're curious about what at-home antigen tests require additional technology, and which require nothing but the physical kit, here's what we found after sifting through all 13 over-the-counter at-home antigen tests currently authorized by the FDA.
At-home antigen tests that require no additional technology:
While some of these tests, like the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test, allow for the optional use of their app, all of these can be used without the use of an app, website or phone call with anyone from the brand. The tools included in the kit will be all you need to see the results.
Abbott Diagnostics Scarborough BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test (Sold at Walmart)
Quidel Corporation QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test (Sold at CVS)
OraSure Technologies InteliSwab COVID-19 Rapid Test (Sold at Walmart)
ACON Laboratories Flowflex COVID-19 Anitgen Home Test (Sold at CVS)
Siemens Healthineers Clinitest Rapid COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test
SD Biosensor COVID-19 At-Home Test
InBios International SCoV-2 Ag Detect Rapid Self-Test
At-home antigen tests that require additional technology:
What the CDC recommends for COVID-19 self-testing
The CDC recommends self-testing for the following reasons:
If you have COVID-19 symptoms
If you have been exposed or potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19
If you are gathering indoors with others, especially when gathering with unvaccinated children, older individuals, immunocompromised individuals or individuals at risk of severe disease.
"If you're vaccinated, it's recommended you test 5 to 7 days after that exposure. If you're unvaccinated, you should get tested as soon as you find out, as well as 5 to 7 days after exposure," says Dr. Sabrina Assoumou
Keep in mind that a negative test result does not necessarily rule out a COVID-19 infection. You may want to perform "serial tests," which the CDC describes as performing two or more tests over several days with at least 24 hours between tests with one test as close as possible to the event you will attend. This is meant to increase the reliability of your test results and therefore reduce your chances of spreading COVID-19.
The CDC's guidance on self-testing can help you determine when to test, how to use a self-test, what to do if you test positive or negative and other information.
PCR vs Antigen (Rapid) tests: What to know
The FDA has a full list of emergency use authorized antigen diagnostic tests, including brands found at major pharmacies like BinaxNOW and QuickVue, along with authorized PCR tests like Pixel by Labcorp. Both tests can be helpful in their own ways and can be useful regardless of vaccination status.
Antigen, or rapid, tests have plenty of appeal for their quick results turn-around—as little as 15 minutes for some. They also happen to be the more affordable at-home test option, too. But, PCR tests tend to be more accurate—this is because PCR tests are able to detect smaller quantities of the virus. You also may need to send your at-home PCR collection to a laboratory to receive your results, which can add an extra delay in the testing process.
"The PCR test is the gold standard to identify a case," says Assoumou. "They're helpful for answering the question, 'Do I have an infection?' What the antigen tests do is answer the question, 'Am I infectious right now?' They were really helpful for the holidays—we were recommending a lot of people do that to help answer that question."
How accurate are at-home COVID-19 tests?
At-home antigen (rapid) tests are slightly less sensitive than PCR tests, meaning they tend to be less accurate. But, experts still advocate for antigen tests as they're accurate enough to detect the virus and can be accessible to millions of Americans. And, antigen tests can detect the omicron variant, too—although they may have reduced sensitivity according to a recent update by the FDA.
Variables like how the test is administered can also contribute to the accuracy of the test. "There are a lot of different factors to take into account when you're using [antigen tests]," says Assoumou. "Number one is technique: Are you following the direction and getting a good sample from the nose? That's one of the reasons you may not get as accurate of a result."
To ensure you're conducting your at-home test correctly, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions or visit their website for more details on at-home testing. "A lot of companies have videos, so it's probably helpful to watch to make sure you get the technique right," Assoumou adds.
What to do if you can't find at-home COVID-19 tests
While at-home tests are being replenished at local retailers and pharmacies regularly, you still may not be able to find an at-home COVID-19 test when you need it. If that's the case, there are other options for testing.
"If you can't get a rapid test, try to go to a facility where you can get tested, or through a healthcare professional or one of the different pharmacies," says Assoumou. "Look for information from your local and state health departments, too. They often have open, pop-up testing sites where you can get tested."
You can visit the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' database of community-based COVID-19 testing sites to find a site near you.
Assouomou also says to keep a lookout for any hospitals that may have specific clinics open for those experiencing COVID-19 or flu-like symptoms walk-ins or appointments. "Some hospitals may have clinics where you can walk in or make an appointment—they do that to decompress emergency rooms."
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
This article originally appeared on Reviewed: COVID at home tests: Where to buy them online, get them for free