Testing for COVID-19 at Home and Anywhere

Testing for COVID-19 at Home and Anywhere

We’re all eager to find ways to empower ourselves against COVID-19. Testing helps us overcome some of the uncertainty. With at-home testing leaving site icon – sometimes called over-the-counter (OTC) testing – that power is right at our fingertips.

Horror and science fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft once noted, “The oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” He wasn’t wrong. Trying to fend off invisible virus particles floating in the air and clinging to surfaces has instilled a bit of fear in us all. Not knowing how long the pandemic will last or when it will end only dials up the worry.

Most at-home tests are antigen tests. These tests look for proteins that help make up coronavirus. Much like home pregnancy tests, they let you know right away if you are “positive” or “negative”  -- a positive means you may be carrying the virus. This is the type of at-home test you’re most likely to find at your local drug store, pharmacy and other retailers. They’re also available onlineleaving site icon

Like everything, there are pros and cons to testing for COVID-19 at home. Here’s our list of things to consider.

PRO: Convenient
At-home tests do away with the hassles that come with visits to your local health care clinic or drive-thru test sites. Now you can test in the comfort and privacy of your own home. Plus, they’re not just for home use. You can use them anywhere. 

PRO: Fast Results
At-home antigen tests only take a few minutes. No more waiting for days to get answers about your status. With fast results, you know right away whether you should isolate, quarantine or carry on. This knowledge helps you protect your health – and the health of those around you. 

CON: Swab Anxiety
To get good results, you have to collect a good sample. This means sticking a swab pretty far up your nose or down your throat. Both can be pretty uncomfortable. Still, swab time is no time to be timid. If you don’t get a good sample, there’s a risk your test results might not be accurate. 

CON: False Results
Overall, COVID-19 tests boast high accuracy – experts say about 90 percent. Even so, you can still get a false positive or false negative result. A test may show a false negative because there isn’t a lot of virus in the nose and throat early on. Positive or negative, remember, test results only offer a snapshot in time. Infection status can change quickly. 

When should you test? Test yourself if you have any COVID-19 symptoms leaving site icon or have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. As a precaution, test yourself before you go to an indoor event or gathering. It’s also a good idea to test yourself before traveling long distance by plane, train or bus.

Remember, at-home tests do not detect antibodies that are a sign of previous infection. They also don’t measure your level of immunity. They only reveal whether or not you are infected with coronavirus at that time.

Did you know? You can order free at-home tests at COVIDtests.govleaving site icon They are also available at local health departments.

Sources: Self-Testing at Home or Anywhere, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022;  What Doctors Wish Patients Knew About Which COVID-19 Test is Best, leaving site icon American Medical Association, 2021; Your Questions About Home Covid-19 Tests, Answered, leaving site icon Consumer Reports, 2022.