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How accurate are at-home rapid COVID-19 tests?

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Testing for COVID-19 at home can help stop the spread of the virus. However, the first obstacle is actually finding a kit and if people do get an at-home test, there is still a question of accuracy.

“Home rapid test kits generally have been found to be around 70% to 85% at picking it up – when you do it as directed,” said Dr. Christopher Belcher, the Infection Prevention Medical Director at Ascension St. Vincent hospital in Indianapolis. “That was in the research lab environment. People make mistakes and do things – so it may be lower than that. And so that is why a negative test if there is still suspicion, you may want to follow up with a PCR or nucleic acid test. But a positive test you can almost always consider that truly positive.”

Belcher said at-home testing is a crucial tool in slowing the spread of COVID-19. It can take several days for a test appointment and even more time for results from the PCR or nucleic acid tests done at various testing locations. Belcher said at-home tests are fast but slightly less accurate than COVID-19 tests done by healthcare professionals. 

People who test at home are advised to make sure their test is on the FDA’s approved list for emergency use authorization and then follow directions carefully. If people do have symptoms and think they might be sick or were exposed to COVID-19, they are also urged to go to a professional.

“If you are testing negative but have reasons you want to know. Either you have been exposed or you have symptoms or you are going to an event. It still can be useful to go ahead and do that approved nucleic acid test or PCR test. Because they are much better at picking up milder cases, cases without symptoms and low numbers of virus. But again, a positive on a rapid test should be considered positive,” said Dr. Belcher.

President Joe Biden said the U.S. has bought 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests, that will hopefully be available next month. Until then, according to CNN, CVS and Walgreens are limiting the number of at-home COVID kits people can buy, due to demand.