Four Quick Facts About At-Home COVID-19 Testing
As COVID-19 continues to spread across our community, many people are looking for a quick way to know if they have the virus. Taking an at-home antigen COVID-19 test—also known as an over-the-counter test or self-test—can help you determine if you can go to work, attend an event, or take your trip. Here are four things to keep in mind about at-home COVID-19 tests.
At-home antigen COVID-19 tests are different than in-person PCR tests. “A rapid COVID-19 test detects molecules on the surface of the virus, which are called antigens. PCR tests, which are read in a laboratory, detect genetic material of the virus. So, we still consider a PCR test result to be more accurate,” says Dr. Tiffany Schraufnagel, a physician in family medicine and obstetrics at ThedaCare. “However, an at-home test can give you a result within 30 minutes. A PCR test result can take days.”
You can use a rapid at-home test if you do or do not have symptoms of COVID-19. However, rapid at-home tests are most accurate when you have symptoms. Overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking an at-home test:
- If you begin having COVID-19 symptoms like a fever, sore throat, or cough
- At least five days after coming into close contact with someone with COVID-19
- Before you will be with a large group of people who aren’t in your household
- On day five of your COVID-19 infection if you no longer have symptoms and you are seeking to exit isolation
Note that it is possible for a test to give a negative result in some people who have COVID-19—especially if the test is taken early during the infection. This is called a false negative. So, if you test negative then you should test again within a few days (with 24 hours between taking tests).
Insurance companies now cover costs for at-home testing. Keep your receipt if you buy your at-home COVID-19 test at a store, pharmacy, or online. Private insurance companies must cover the costs of eight at-home COVID-19 tests per person per month. However, all insurance companies are different; some have “preferred networks” and other guidelines. So, contact your health insurer to understand how you can be paid back for your at-home tests.
At this time, Original Medicare doesn’t pay for at-home COVID-19 tests. However, you can pick up free at-home tests from community health centers and Medicare-certified health clinics. Some Medicare Advantage Plans may pay for at-home COVID-19 tests. If you’re in a Medicare Advantage Plan, check with the plan to see if it will cover your testing costs.
You can order free at-home tests from the U.S. Government. Every home in the U.S. can now order four rapid COVID-19 tests at no cost. They usually ship in 7-12 days. To order tests for your household, visit covidtests.gov. All you will need is your name and address. No ID, credit card, or health insurance information is required. If you need help placing an order, call 1-800-232-0233.
If you have questions about COVID-19, then your team at ThedaCare has many resources and tools to support you. Visit MyThedaCare.org for the COVID-19 Symptom Checker and to learn more about where to go for testing and treatment.