If you have symptoms of a coronavirus infection or you think you may have been exposed to the virus, you can take some COVID-19 tests at home. That makes them especially convenient and helps eliminate the risks associated with going to a doctor’s office, urgent care center, or pharmacy to take the test.
There are a few different types of COVID-19 tests you can take at home. Most of them use some version of the (now classic) nasal swab test, but others use saliva samples. Some of the tests use PCR (polymerase chain reaction) technology, which amplifies small amounts of viral genetic material—if it’s there—so that it can be detected. Other kits use antigen tests, which look for proteins on the surface of the virus. Experts believe antigen tests may be slightly less accurate than PCR tests, SELF explained previously, but they can still be very useful because they’re also generally cheaper and faster than PCR tests, which need to be analyzed in a lab.
Because any test—even the most accurate PCR ones—can miss some infections (a false negative) and incorrectly diagnose others (a false positive), it’s always important to have a conversation with a health care provider after a test to put your results into context. In some cases, you may need to repeat the test to confirm your results. And remember that testing is not a substitute for wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing, and avoiding crowds.
Sometimes the tests may give you rapid results right then and there, usually within 20 to 30 minutes. But for many of these tests, you’ll need to actually mail your sample to a lab and then wait for the lab to receive your kit and analyze the results. That’s obviously dependent on a lot of factors outside of your control, like shipping times and how backed up that particular lab is. But generally you can expect to get results for those tests within 48 to 72 hours of the lab receiving your sample.
However, there are also some restrictions to be aware of. First off, the emergency use authorization that many of these kits were given by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only allows them to be used in people who have mild symptoms or a known or suspected exposure to someone with COVID-19. In those cases, you will need to fill out a health assessment questionnaire or have a virtual chat with a doctor before you’re able to actually receive the kit.
In other cases, the kit may only be available with a prescription to test for a suspected case of COVID-19. So you will need to have a visit (likely virtual) with a doctor before getting it. But even with that hassle, it’s hard to overstate the ease or importance of having the option to take a test at home—especially in a pandemic.
The Lucira test was the first fully at-home COVID-19 test to receive an emergency use authorization from the FDA, SELF reported previously. However, you’ll need a prescription to get it, and it’s specifically intended for people whose doctors suspect they may have COVID-19 either due to their symptoms or to an exposure.
To use the test, you’ll first take a careful nasal swab sample according to the packaging instructions. You’ll then swirl the sample around in the kit, and you’ll have your results within 30 minutes.
$50, lucirahealth.com (prescription only)
This is the first over-the-counter home COVID-19 test to get an emergency use authorization from the FDA, meaning you can get your results quickly at home and don’t need a prescription to access the test.
After collecting your nasal swab sample, you’ll follow the product instructions to place your sample on the test device. Then your test results will be available in about 15 minutes. They’re displayed on your phone via dedicated app (the testing kit itself is Bluetooth enabled).
$30, ellumehealth.com, expected to be available starting in January 2021
Abbott’s BinaxNOW test first received FDA authorization back in August, and then got authorized for home use in mid-December. These tests are currently being distributed to local health departments across the U.S. The company anticipates sending out 30 million BinaxNOW tests in the first quarter of 2021 and another 90 million in the second quarter. They’re available with a prescription only.
This test is administered entirely at home with a self-collected nasal swab and gives users results within 15 minutes. The test is paired with a free app called NAVICA, which displays your results. The app also gives you a temporary digital “NAVICA pass” that’s designed to be used like an airline boarding pass. When scanned, it will display your results.
$25, abbott.com (prescription only)
This test is available online with or without a prescription, SELF explained previously. To get it, you’ll first have to fill out a survey to make sure you meet the criteria for eligibility for the test (meaning you either have COVID-19 symptoms or have been directed to take the test by a doctor or contact tracer due to possible exposure).
You’ll get your results a day or two after the lab receives your sample (a self-collected nasal swab). If your results are positive or inconclusive, a health care provider will call you to deliver the results. But if they’re negative, you’ll just get an email.
$119 out of pocket, but LabCorp can also work with you to bill your health insurance or use federal funds to cover the cost of your test if you don’t have insurance, pixel.labcorp.com
You can buy this nasal swab test kit online without a prescription after filling out a short online assessment. The test is only available to people who have mild symptoms or were exposed to COVID-19. You’ll have to mail your sample to a lab in order to get your results.
After the lab receives your sample, you can expect to get results within 72 hours.
To order this test online, you’ll first have to go through an assessment with an independent healthcare professional to determine if you’re eligible. You will then have to mail your sample—a self-collected nasal swab—to a lab to get results.
Most people can get their results 48 hours after the lab receives their sample.
Tests from Binx Health, Costco, and Everlywell take advantage of this P23 test, which works with nasal swabs and saliva samples depending on the exact test kit you’re using. But you’ll first need to take a short online health intake survey to assess whether or not you’re eligible to receive the test.
You need to mail your sample to a lab before getting results. Available 12-48 hours after the lab receives your sample, depending on which test you’re using.
This saliva test, developed by a team at Rutgers Human Genetics Institute, is available online in the form of a few different tests available on different sites (after completing a quick health assessment).
The exact procedure for this test may be slightly different depending on where you order it from. But your results should generally be available within 72 hours of the lab receiving your sample.
After ordering your test, you’ll receive an email containing an online medical screening. Once that’s complete, your test kit will ship out to you. Then you’ll collect your nasal swab sample and mail it to their lab facility.
Results are generally available about 72 hours after the lab receives your test sample.