COVID 19 At Home Test Kits: What You Need To Know As The Omicron Variant Spreads

Since the first at-home COVID-19 test earned authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in 2020, the number of consumer-marketed at-home kits has grown to more than a dozen. Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS News' "Face the Nation" in October that "every household should have a supply."

If you're thinking of picking up one (or several) at a store or online, especially in light of the highly-contagious Omicron variant and the Biden administration's new requirement that at-home COVID tests be covered by private insurance effective Jan. 15, then this guide is for you. We'll run through the at-home test basics -- methodology, terminology and where-to-buy-ology. While some testing kits are currently sold out, plenty of testing options are available if you know where to shop.

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What is an at-home COVID test?

What is an at-home COVID test exactly
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Think of an at-home COVID-19 test as a do-it-yourself COVID-19 test: You read the instructions; you collect the sample (a nasal swab, usually); you get the results -- and you respond accordingly.

Some at-home tests call for you to ship your sample to a lab for analysis. The ones in this category are somewhat in the spirit of a home collection test. A home collection test involves a company or service delivering a test to your house, collecting or helping collect the sample, and then taking the sample to the lab.

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What kind of at-home COVID tests are there?

What kind of at-home COVID tests are there?
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Technically speaking, there are two kinds of at-home COVID-19 tests: molecular and antigen. 

A molecular test usually involves a nasal swab (but sometimes saliva). The Lucira Check It COVID-19 Test Kit is a popular at-home molecular test.  

An antigen test (depicted in the above photo illustration) usually involves a nasal or throat swab, and is commonly known as a rapid test. The BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test is an example of a leading name in this at-home category. 

Molecular and antigen tests are both diagnostic tools -- they aim to tell you if you currently have COVID-19. (They're not built to tell you if you previously or recently had COVID-19; you'll need a lab-run antibody test for that answer.)   

Antigen tests can get you results in as little as 10 to 15 minutes. An at-home molecular test, per the FDA, can deliver an answer in perhaps an hour or less.  

In both kinds of tests, a positive result means an active COVID-19 infection has been detected; a negative test result means an active COVID-19 infection has not been detected.   

BinaxNOW COVID-19 Rapid Self-Test at Home Kit, $24

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Lucira Check It COVID-19 Test Kit, $75 after coupon (reduced from $89)

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What is the accuracy of an at-home COVID test?

What is the accuracy of an at-home COVID test?
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For starters, all FDA-authorized at-home COVID tests have been found to be effective -- effectiveness is literally one of the criteria for authorization. Drilling down, the FDA says molecular tests are "typically highly accurate," and retests usually aren't needed. 

Antigen tests are said to deliver highly accurate positive results. But, as the FDA points out, false positives can happen.   

A false positive happens when a test says you have COVID-19, but, actually, you don't. This month, Ellume recalled 2.2 million of its Ellume COVID-19 Home Test rapid kits due to what the FDA termed "higher-than-acceptable false positive test results."

As to the general question of whether antigen tests require retesting, the FDA says, "maybe." In addition to the false-positive issue, the FDA notes, "Negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test." As you'll see when you shop for at-home COVID-19 tests, an antigen test kit typically contains two tests that are to be performed within a few days of each other -- the better to confirm the results. This multiple-test process is called serial testing. 

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Do you need a prescription for an at-home COVID test?

Do you need a prescription for an at-home COVID test
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Many at-home tests are sold over the counter (or, OTC), and in theory, you can pick up a molecular or antigen test in a store as easily as you can a bottle of vitamins. We hedge because, one, an FDA explainer indicates, some at-home tests require prescriptions, and, two, if you've tried finding an at-home test in a store you may have discovered that, stock-wise, it isn't always as easy as securing a bottle of vitamins. 

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Do you have to have COVID symptoms to take an at-home COVID test?

Do you have to have COVID symptoms to take an at-home COVID test
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Generally speaking, there are molecular and antigen at-home tests that'll work for you whether you have COVID-19 symptoms or not. But the answer may vary depending on a test's authorization, so read your label.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a host of resources and recommendations on who should test, when to test, how to test and what to do if your test result is positive -- or negative.  

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Can an at-home COVID test be used for children? 

The FDA has authorized some at-home tests for use in children as young as 2. Instructions may vary by brand, so, again, be sure to read the fine print on your at-home kit. 

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Can at-home COVID tests be used to meet travel requirements?

Can at-home COVID tests be used to meet travel requirements
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The short answer to this question is (wait for it): maybe. 

For international air travelers, rules and regulations will vary. For U.S.-bound travelers, some, but not all, at-home COVID-19 tests will fulfill the U.S. requirement that air passengers, ages 2 and older, show a negative COVID-19 test (or proof of a recent COVID-19 bout) prior to boarding. 

(The U.S. rule, so you know, applies equally to U.S. citizens and non-citizens, and is in effect for everybody regardless of vaccination status. There are no blanket testing requirements for domestic air travel within the United States.)  

As to which at-home COVID-19 tests may be used to meet the testing requirement for U.S.-bound air travelers: Whether molecular or antigen, the test must have a video component. This literally means you must take the test while under the watch of a telemedicine administrator. And, yes, some at-home tests come with that feature. 

Instead of picking up, say, the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test at Walgreens, you'll need to buy the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card at-home test from eMed -- for about three times the cost, but with the virtual visit included. (The Ag Card kit, for what it's worth, is also a six-pack.)   

BinaxNOW COVID-19 Rapid Self-Test at Home Kit, $24

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BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag At-Home Test Kit (6 pack), $150

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Are at-home COVID tests covered by insurance?

Effective Jan. 15, 2022, private insurance companies are required to reimburse for over-the-counter COVID test kits. Up to eight tests are allowed per month, per person covered. The requirement, issued by the Biden administration, covers all at-home COVID-19 tests covered under the emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (The emergency use authorization status of a test is typically located on its box.)

Tests purchased prior to Jan. 15 do not qualify. That doesn't necessarily mean you're out of luck however -- tests ordered on referral of your healthcare provider, and tests ordered by your healthcare provider, may still be covered. Contact your own insurance company for more information about your policy and what it covers.

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At-home COVID tests at Walgreens, Walmart and Amazon 

Maybe you've heard that at-home COVID-19 tests are scarce. (The Ellume recall didn't help on the supply front.) Or maybe you've actually encountered empty store shelves where the kits were supposed to be. 

To help you track some down, we searched for at-home COVID-19 tests at Walgreens, Walmart and Amazon. Some may be out of stock, but you can check back anytime to see if that's changed. (Walgreens and Walmart may also have kits available for in-person purchase at your local stores.)  

Our list has been culled to the most-popular at-home tests -- these are the five kits featuring the most customer ratings across the Walgreens, Walmart and Amazon sites. 

The rundown is a mix of molecular and rapid antigen tests. Every kit featured here has received emergency-use authorization from the FDA.  

BinaxNOW COVID-19 Rapid Self-Test At Home Kit

>BinaxNOW Covid-19 Rapid Self-Test
Abbott via Walgreens

This rapid antigen test from Abbott contains two nasal swabs, for two tests to be conducted within about three days of each other. Results from each swab are promised in 15 minutes. Authorized for ages 2 and up.       

BinaxNOW COVID-19 Rapid Self-Test At Home Kit, $24 (Walgreens)

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BinaxNOW COVID-19 Rapid Self-Test At Home Kit, $20 (Walmart)

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Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test

>Quidel QuickVue at-Home OTC COVID-19 Test
Quidel via Amazon

Quidel's QuickVue is a rapid antigen test that contains two nasal swabs, for two tests, to be used about two to three days apart. It promises results in about 10 minutes. Authorized for ages 2 and up. 

Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test, $24 (Walgreens)

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Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test, $24 (Walmart)

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InteliSwab COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Home Test

>InteliSwab COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Home Test
OraSure via Walmart

OraSure's InteliSwab kit is a rapid antigen test that contains two, single-use nasal swabs that are to be used within three days of each other. Results are promised in 30 minutes. Authorized for ages 15 and up.  

InteliSwab COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Home Test, $14 (Walmart)

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InteliSwab COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Home Test, $24 (Walgreens)

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BD Veritor At-Home COVID-19 Digital Test Kit

>BD Veritor at-Home COVID-19 Digital Test Kit
BD Veritor via Amazon

The BD Veritor at-home kit is a rapid antigen, nasal swab test that works with an app -- so, instead of reading lines on an applicator, you get a read-out on your smartphone that declares whether you're negative or positive for COVID-19. Results take 15 minutes. Two tests are included; they're to be used within two to three days of each other. Authorized for ages 2 and up. 

BD Veritor At-Home COVID-19 Digital Test Kit, $27 (regularly $40)

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Lucira Check It COVID-19 Test Kit

>Lucira Check It COVID-19 Test Kit
Lucira via Amazon

Lucira's Check It COVID-19 test is a molecular test that uses a nasal swab to produce results in 30 minutes or less. The kit contains one test. Authorized for ages 2 and up. 

Lucira Check It COVID-19 Test Kit, $75 (reduced from $89)

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