When the COVID-19 pandemic started, the experts kept saying that constant and widespread testing will keep the virus under control. At the time, that meant going to the assigned place and giving a sample that medical staff could analyze. Afterward, the results would come in, telling you if you had COVID-19 or not.
Nowadays, though, going to a testing checkpoint may not be necessary. In fact, with a good at-home testing kit, you can check whether you have the virus on your own and receive results immediately. In many ways, these tests are supposed to speed up the testing process and help keep the pandemic in check. But do they really work? And are they accurate enough to be trusted? That’s exactly what we’ll explore here.
What Are COVID At-Home Tests?
As their name alone says, COVID at-home tests can be used to determine whether you have coronavirus from the comfort of your home. No more waiting in line at the checkpoint or anticipating a package with your results. Instead, you simply purchase the at-home test, follow a few instructions, and you’ll get your answer in no time.
Now that we’ve been living with the virus for over a year, dozens of at-home tests have appeared on the market. It’s no wonder either — many brands saw their opportunity in this field. However, despite the number, there are essentially two types of at-home tests. Those are called antigen tests and molecular tests.
Both of these types require a sample — usually a nose or a throat swab — and both analyze it for coronavirus. The main difference is that antigen tests detect the virus’s outer shell, while molecular ones can sense the genes of COVID-19. Also, molecular tests take longer to perform but are generally more accurate. On the other hand, though, they are more expensive too and thus fairly inaccessible for frequent testing.
Ultimately, at-home COVID tests can be quite useful. Thanks to them, we can reduce the crowds and waiting times for the official PCR testing. And if you have been experiencing the symptoms of coronavirus, getting a quick test can speed up your treatment and help experts keep track of the virus. But the question is, are these tests accurate enough to perform such an important role?
How Accurate Are COVID At-Home Tests?
In the world of diagnostic tests for COVID, PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) is the golden standard. It’s the most accurate one of all, and getting a positive result after PCR almost certainly means you do have COVID-19.
However, PCR tests are only performed in labs, and only experts have access to them. There are no at-home versions of it, and if some were available, they probably wouldn’t be as accurate as the official one. And that’s exactly the case with at-home tests that are currently available.
Talking about COVID-19 test accuracy, the primary concern is that the test might not detect the virus when it’s present. Then, it would give you a false negative result, leading you to go about your everyday life and possibly infect others. And of course, that’s a valid concern — at-home tests’ accuracy is usually between 85% and 95%. A good number, to be sure, but by no means a perfect one.
But, according to the experts, false positives are almost as big of a problem as false negatives, and these tests do occasionally show them. Although the chance that the result will be a false positive is usually lower than 2%, frequent testing increases it. Thus, if at-home testing became a standard, millions of people could get this result and end up seeking help that they don’t need.
So, at-home tests can be a great tool for catching the virus when you already have some symptoms, but they are less reliable for asymptomatic testing. Ultimately, if you do get a positive result on an at-home test, you still need to check its validity with the official one.
Best At-Home COVID Tests on the Market
If you do decide to give at-home testing a try, you should choose the best tests available. Here, we’ll show you two of those.
BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test
BinaxNOW is quick, easy to use, and fairly inexpensive, thus easily beating the competition. It takes only about 20 minutes to get the results, and the instructions are clear and simple. All you need to do is collect a sample from your nose, insert it into the designated place, and then bring it in contact with the test strip. If the strip changes color to pink after a while, your result is positive.
There are a few issues with BinaxNOW, though, and those mostly relate to its accuracy. It’s rated at 84.6%, meaning that the test misses quite a few real infections. That’s why the company suggests you perform the test twice in 36 hours for the best results.
Lucira is a molecular test kit that uses a similar technology that PCR tests do. Thanks to that, it’s far more accurate than other at-home tests. In fact, its accuracy rating stands at 94%, which is far above BinaxNOW.
On the other hand, that also means it’s more expensive and definitely not something you can use on a regular basis. Still, if you do use it, you’ll discover that the process is quite simple, and the results are clear and readable. On top of that, they are available in just an hour, which is quite fast for this kind of test.
Despite some minor accuracy issues, COVID at-home tests can be a great tool for battling the pandemic. They are fast, easy to use, and particularly effective when you’re already displaying some of the COVID-19 symptoms. Still, even if you do test positive, you shouldn’t entirely rely on them. Always make sure to check your results with an official laboratory.
And if you get a negative test but still feel the typical COVID-19 symptoms, it might still be worth taking the PCR test. After all, better safe than sorry.