What You Need to Know About the New At-Home COVID Tests

man swabbing his nose

Photo: Girts Ragelis (Shutterstock)

In recent months, the FDA has authorized several over-the-counter COVID tests so that you don’t have to go to a testing center to find out whether you have the coronavirus. Starting this week, you can get an antigen self-test at Walgreens, Walmart, or CVS.

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What is an antigen test?

This is not a PCR test, which is considered the most accurate way to test for a current infection. And it is not an antibody test, which can tell you if you had COVID at some point in the past.

Instead, it tests for the presence of a protein from the coronavirus. The BinaxNOW brand that will be on retailers’ shelves this week costs $23.99 for a pack of two tests; you’re supposed to use both of them, a few days apart.

A few other brands should be available soon, including the Ellume COVID-19 home test and the Quidel QuickVue. All promise results in about 15 minutes. CVS says that the Ellume will cost $38.99 and only requires one test.

Can this take the place of a test before travel?

No, since you need documentation of the results, but there are at-home tests that can provide documentation. For example, BinaxNOW also makes a test that you can do at home, but with a provider walking you through the process during a video call. It costs $150 for a six-pack, or $25 per test. Labcorp makes a PCR test where you can take the sample yourself at home and mail the swab to their lab for results. This one is $119 out of pocket, but if you meet certain requirements, the company can bill your insurance or use federal funding to make it free for you.

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