Submitted by Community Health Plan of Washington.
With the recent COVID-19 Omicron variant surge, Americans have been asked to increase their use of testing to help control the spread of the virus. At-home testing kits have become a popular and convenient option, but many Washingtonians have questions about these tests—and what to do if their test is positive.
It’s a lot to keep up with! Dr. LuAnn Lawton Chen, the Senior Medical Director of Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW), provides answers to the questions we’re hearing from local community members.
What is an at-home COVID-19 test?
At-home COVID-19 tests are test kits that you can perform and interpret in the privacy of your home. Currently, there are two types of tests available to Washingtonians: one is an antigen test, also called a “rapid test,” and it detects protein fragments specific to the Coronavirus in about 15 minutes. The other option is the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which detects the RNA (or genetic material) that is specific to the virus. The PCR test is more accurate, but it does require you to mail your test to a lab and takes about 2-3 days to process. Both of these test kits include detailed instructions on collecting the samples—typically with a swab in your nasal passage—and how to run the test correctly.
How accurate are at-home testing kits?
At-home testing kits are most accurate if the person has a high amount of virus in their system. These kits are frequently negative before symptoms are shown or if it is early in the viral process. A repeat test is recommended if symptoms develop or if you know you were possibly exposed. Additionally, PCR tests are less likely to show false positives than antigen tests.
How can I get an at-home COVID-19 test?
There are a few options to get an at-home COVID-19 test. You can purchase at-home test kits at pharmacies or drug stores as well as online. Be careful to make sure you’re ordering from a reputable online source and be cautious of high prices. Private health insurance will cover up to 8 at-home antigen tests per month. Always check with your insurance provider for in-network options and how you could be reimbursed for a purchase. Community Health Plan of Washington members will be able to show their member ID at the time of purchase at a network pharmacy counter with a $0 copay or submit the receipt for reimbursement. Additionally, the federal government recently launched a website where you can order a kit of four rapid tests per household, to be delivered to your home by the U.S. Post Office. Washington State also launched its own website to provide free at-home kits across the state. At-home testing kits are also being delivered to Community Health Centers and other local health and community organizations for distribution. Supplies were limited until recently, but more are in production and being shipped out all the time.
When should I use an at-home test?
If you are showing COVID-19 symptoms, you should take a test immediately. If you have symptoms and the initial test appears negative, it is possible an error might have occurred, and you should repeat the test a few days later. COVID-19 symptoms can include fever, sore throat, pink eye, runny nose, muscle aches, trouble smelling or tasting, cough, trouble breathing, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
If you were possibly exposed to COVID-19, you should take a test five days after the possible exposure, even if you have no symptoms. If symptoms develop, you should test immediately, and then repeat the test in a few days if it is negative. Remember, at-home tests aren’t as accurate early on.
You should also test yourself before getting together with those who have an increased risk of complications from COVID-19 (elderly, immune-compromised, or people who have not been vaccinated). If you have symptoms that could indicate COVID-19, you should not risk exposing others, even if you have a negative test.
What should I do if I test positive?
If you test positive, contact your health care provider for advice and inform any contacts you might have had in the few days before becoming positive or developing symptoms. If you sign up for WA Notify, you can use the app to anonymously alert other app users of possible exposure.
If you do not develop symptoms, you should isolate until at least five days have passed since the date of your first positive COVID-19 test. If you do have symptoms, you should isolate until your fever is gone without fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours, your symptoms are improving, and at least five days have passed since your symptoms began.
For more information, review the CDC guidelines: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/quarantine-isolation.html.