How do at-home COVID-19 tests work?


FILE – This Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021 file photo shows a BinaxNOW rapid COVID-19 test made by Abbott Laboratories, in Tacoma, Wash. On Wednesday, March 31, 2021, the FDA said Abbott’s BinaxNow and Quidel’s QuickVue tests can now be sold without a prescription for consumers to test themselves repeatedly at home. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

NEW YORK (WETM) — As at-home COVID-19 grow in popularity, many questions remain about how they work and if they are effective.

To take an at-home test, experts say you can purchase one at a store that carries them or pick one up for free at some public locations. Then, follow the instructions on the box or watch the instructional video from Chemung County Public Health to complete the test. Finally, wait for the results.

“I think that if you have symptoms and you take the test, I think there’s a lot to be said about doing the at-home test because you could know if you should be isolating away from others,” Dr. Justin Nistico, infectious disease expert at Arnot Health, said. “It is important to know that if you’re just going to use the test to screen
yourself for COVID-19, sometimes the test may not have as high of an accuracy depending upon the test that you’re taking.”

“A positive self-test result means that the test detected the virus, and you are very likely to have an infection and should stay home or isolate for 10 days, wear a mask if you could have contact with others, and avoid indoor gatherings to reduce the risk of spreading disease to someone else.

A negative self-test result means that the test did not detect the virus and you may not have an infection, but it does not rule out infection. Repeating the test within a few days, with at least 24 hours between tests, will increase the confidence that you are not infected.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Where can I get an at-home test?

Chemung County

  • The County Office of Emergency Management received 3,700 test kits from the state, delivered to each municipality. The kits will be available for pickup starting January 7.
  • The kits will be available at the City, Town or Village Hall of your municipality, and those wanting to get a test must be a resident of that municipality.
  • Instructions for how to use the iHealth tests can be found on the Chemung County website.

Steuben County

  • In partnership with the Southern Tier Library System, the Steuben County Health Department offering the masks and test to families at local libraries until supplies run out. Families can take up to three boxes of tests. The KN95 masks and tests are also available at the Steuben County Public Health Office in Bath.
  • A list of participating libraries can be found on the STLS website, and directions for completing the 15-minute antigen tests can be found here.

Schuyler County

  • County Administrator Fonda Chronis said the at-home rapid tests will be distributed throughout the county next week.
  • A variety of local fire departments, churches and county buildings will have tests to distribute. A full list can be found on the Schuyler County website.

How to report an at-home positive result?

Steuben County

Steuben County residents who receive a positive at-home COVID-19 test can report them to the Steuben County Public Health Department online

The portal asks for basic demographic information, vaccination status, and requires the positive individual to upload a picture of their positive test result.  Most home tests return a result in about 15 minutes and would need a picture to be taken within 30 minutes of taking the test to show valid results. 

Schuyler County

Schuyler County residents who test positive for COVID-19 via an at-home test can report their results online here.

When do at-home tests expire?

Most antigen tests on the market have an expiration date within two to three months. Several pharmacists and health experts warn against “panic buying” tests and storing them for too long. Before taking a test, make sure it has not expired as it could give inaccurate results.

The FDA has considered extending expirations are more data is released from companies who developed the testing tools.

Purchasing limit at some retailers

Tuesday morning Walgreens imposed a purchase limit for at-home COVID-19 testing products across its stores and online. Customers will now be limited to just four items per purchase “in an effort to help improve inventory.”

A short time later, CVS announced its own purchase limit. In a statement shared with Nexstar, the retailer says it continues to work to provide its stores with five at-home COVID tests but will also be imposing a purchase limit.

A Walmart spokesperson says they are also seeing an “extremely high demand on Covid-19 at-home testing kits.” While inventory levels at its stores are “strong,” inventory is limited for its online division. Customers are limited to eight testing kits per online order. Additionally, each store may set its own limits based on local inventory.

I tested positive, now what?

After a positive test, you should isolate, specifically in a separate room from other people in your household if possible. If you are around other household members, the CDC recommends wearing a mask.

Recently, the CDC updated its guidance regarding the isolation period. It should last five full days, the CDC says. The countdown starts on the day after you had symptoms. If you never developed symptoms but tested positive, your countdown starts the day you were tested.

“Stay home and away from other people for at least 5 days (day 0 through day 5) after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19. The date of your exposure is considered day 0. Wear a well-fitting mask when around others at home, if possible.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you tested positive but you were never sick, you can end isolation after five days.

If you were sick, you can end isolation when:

  • You haven’t had a fever for 24 hours (without using a fever suppressant like ibuprofen or Tylenol)
  • AND your other symptoms are getting better (The exception is the loss of smell and taste because that can last weeks or months, and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re contagious.)

After five days, if you’re still feeling sick, wait until you’ve met the above criteria to leave isolation, the CDC says.

The CDC has not mandated a negative test to end isolation; however, many leading medical professionals recommend waiting to end isolation until you receive a negative result.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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