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  • Also Known As:
  • At-Home Molecular COVID-19 Test
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Test Quick Guide

COVID-19 is the illness caused by infection with the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. A PCR test is a type of molecular test to identify an active infection with SARS-CoV-2.

PCR tests use a technique called reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect the virus’s genetic material. The test sample is usually saliva or a swab taken from your nose or throat.

Different options exist for at-home PCR testing. At-home collection kits involve taking a sample at home and sending it to a laboratory for analysis. Self-tests include a device for analyzing your sample rapidly at home without the need to mail it to a lab.

About the Test

Purpose of the test

The purpose of an at-home PCR test is to determine if you have an active infection with SARS-CoV-2. This testing can play a role in the diagnosis, screening, and monitoring of COVID-19.

  • Diagnosis is checking for a disease when symptoms have already appeared. For COVID-19, laboratory-based PCR tests are commonly used for diagnosis. An at-home test may help in diagnosis, but your doctor may want to do another PCR to confirm the result from a test taken at home.
  • Screening is testing for a disease when no symptoms have appeared. An at-home PCR may be used in this way when someone has had a potential exposure to SARS-CoV-2.
  • Monitoring is a way of observing the progression of disease. For COVID-19, repeat PCR tests may be used to determine if a person still shows signs of active infection.

Your doctor is in the best position to describe the purpose as well as the potential benefits and drawbacks of a PCR, at-home PCR, or other type of test for COVID-19.

What does the test measure?

An at-home PCR test measures whether your sample includes components of the genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The PCR testing technique is part of a group of molecular tests known as nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs). These tests make many copies of the genetic material found in your test sample and then analyze those copies for traces of the virus. As a result of this copying process, even very small amounts of the virus’s genetic material can be detected.

When should I get an at-home COVID-19 PCR test?

There are not strict guidelines for when you should do at-home PCR testing for COVID-19.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should talk to your doctor promptly. Your doctor can recommend the most appropriate type of diagnostic testing.

A PCR test may be used for COVID-19 screening in people without symptoms, but it is important to note that a laboratory-based test may be preferred or required in some cases. Examples of situations in which screening may be used include:

  • After close contact with a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2
  • After being in a high-risk situation such as a large gathering
  • For people who work or live in nursing homes, correctional facilities, homeless shelters, or other shared living environments
  • Before surgery or other medical procedures
  • Before starting medications that can affect the immune system
  • Before traveling, returning to work, or engaging in other activities that require proof of a negative test for COVID-19

For an at-home PCR test that requires a prescription, you will need to talk with your doctor to determine if the test is appropriate in your case.

For at-home tests without a prescription, you may buy and take the test voluntarily. However,  if you need the test for a specific purpose, such as to travel, you should confirm beforehand that at-home test results will be accepted.

Benefits and Downsides of At-Home COVID-19 PCR Test

There are several different types of COVID-19 tests, and each has potential benefits and downsides. Being aware of these pros and cons can help select the right test in your situation.

Some of the principal benefits of at-home PCR testing include:

  • Convenience: You can obtain the test sample at your own home and on your own schedule. For at-home self-tests, you can also get results without having to wait for laboratory processing.
  • Maintain social distancing: By taking the test sample yourself, you avoid the need to go to a medical office or testing site and reduce contact with others, including frontline medical workers.
  • Reduced discomfort with saliva sample: Many at-home tests utilize a saliva sample, which often involves less discomfort than testing that requires swabbing your nose or throat.
  • Option for rapid test results: If you have a self-test kit that includes a device to analyze your sample, you will normally have results within 30 minutes.

Possible downsides of at-home PCR testing include:

  • Risk of sample contamination: When collecting a test specimen yourself, there is a risk of accidentally contaminating the sample or otherwise preparing it incorrectly. If the sample is not properly collected, test accuracy may be affected.
  • Potential for reduced test accuracy: In general, rapid tests are somewhat less accurate than laboratory-based tests, although both are generally reliable.
  • Repeat testing may be required: In some cases, a doctor may want to confirm an at-home test with a second test that is processed by a medical laboratory. An at-home test is not always accepted in situations that may require a negative test, such as to return to work or travel to another country.
  • May not be covered by insurance: If your at-home test is not prescribed by your doctor, you will likely have to pay for its full cost.

Types of At-Home Tests

Multiple options exist for at-home PCR COVID-19 testing. The following sections describe our selections for the best tests available:

Best for Travel Certification
LetsGetChecked – COVID-19 Fit to Fly Test
Price: $89
Type: Self-collection
Sample: Lower nasal swab
Results timeline: 1 to 3 days after sample is received

The LetsGetChecked COVID-19 Fit to Fly Test is ideal for people who need a clear negative test report and have five or more working days before travel to conduct their molecular COVID-19 test.

The Fit to Fly test is a self-collection test, which means you obtain the test sample at home and send it to a lab for analysis. You will receive the test kit within 24-48 hours after you have placed your order. You then collect your sample by swabbing the lower part of your nostril.

All shipping charges are included, and your test kit comes with a prepaid rapid shipping label to quickly get your sample to LetsGetChecked’s laboratory. You will get text and email updates at each step of the process to keep you informed about the timeframe.

Analysis of your nasal swab is done using transcription-mediated amplification (TMA), a type of sensitive nucleic acid amplification testing. It is usually completed in 24-72 hours after the sample is received. All analyses take place in a CLIA-certified laboratory that meets federal standards for quality lab testing.

When your results are ready, they are sent to a secure online account where you can download and print an official lab report necessary for travel. If you need a passport number added to your report, you can contact LetsGetChecked directly.

If you test positive or have any questions about your test result, you can set up a call with the company’s nurse support line.

LetsGetChecked provides you with an itemized receipt that makes it easier for you to submit reimbursement forms to your health insurance, employer, or another entity that may help pay for your testing.

Easiest to Use
Everlywell – COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit DTC
Price: $109
Type: Self-collection
Sample: Lower nasal swab
Results timeline: 1 to 2 days after sample is received

The Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit is both affordable and easy to use. Free shipping of the test kit to your home is included in the price, although you can opt for expedited shipping at an additional cost. Either way, the kit will arrive with everything you need to prepare your sample.

The sample collection does not require pushing the swab deeply into your nostril, but simply swabbing the lower portion of the nostril, avoiding the discomfort that can occur with some other COVID-19 testing kits.

Once you have taken the swab, you package it according to the instructions and apply a prepaid rapid shipping label. This package usually reaches Everlywell’s lab in 1-2 business days after you send it.

This FDA-authorized test is completed in a CLIA-certified lab using RT-PCR methods. The lab is able to analyze your sample and will provide results within 1-2 business days.

Everlywell provides results through their website using a clear and straightforward interface. If you test positive, you will be contacted by a member of Everlywell’s support team, who will explain what the result means and walk you through the appropriate next steps to avoid spreading the virus to others.

Everlywell also provides an itemized receipt for people seeking reimbursement.

Best for Families
Pixel by LabCorp – COVID-19 Test
Price: $119
Type: Self-collection
Sample: Lower nasal swab
Results timeline: 1 to 2 days after sample is received

The COVID-19 Test from Pixel by LabCorp is our top choice for families that need to conduct PCR tests for adults and/or young children.

Pixel’s COVID-19 Test is appropriate for anyone over age two. The test kit includes detailed instructions and all of the necessary materials for obtaining a sample that can be analyzed for the virus’s genetic material.

The test involves an easily obtained lower nasal swab that causes little pain or discomfort, which is especially helpful for parents to use when taking a sample from a young child. Young adults and adults can generally do the test collection without assistance.

The test kit is usually delivered within two days and includes a prepaid return shipping label. Using an RT-PCR testing method, results are generally ready within 1-2 business days and can be accessed on a secure website, which offers a clear explanation of the findings of your test.

The sample is analyzed by laboratories that are part of LabCorp, one of the country’s largest testing providers. The labs are CLIA-certified and College of American Pathologists-accredited, reflecting strong standards for accuracy and quality assurance.

You can pay the full cost out of pocket on Pixel’s website. Or, if you meet certain criteria, you can pay nothing upfront and request that Pixel bill your insurance or the federal government.

Best Saliva Test
Phosphorus – Pinpoint: At-Home Saliva PCR Test Kit for COVID-19
Price: $119
Type: Self-collection
Sample: Saliva
Results timeline: 1 to 2 days after sample is received

The Pinpoint: At-Home Saliva PCR Test Kit from Phosphorus is a good fit for people who want COVID-19 testing without the need for a potentially uncomfortable nasal swab.

The FDA-authorized test from Phosphorus uses a saliva sample. The test kit simplifies the collection of saliva by providing a device you spit into and that safely stores your sample for shipment.

It also comes with a prepaid shipping label that simplifies the process of getting your sample back to the lab. After the lab receives your sample, they will test it and make your results available within 1-2 business days.

The Phosphorus lab is College of American Pathologists-accredited and certified by the New York State Department of Health. It uses RT-PCR methods to look for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus in your saliva sample.

There are several different pricing options for the At-Home Saliva PCR Test Kit for COVID-19. You can pay for the full test cost out of pocket if you don’t have insurance or if your insurance isn’t covering the test, or you can also pay a reduced cost and provide insurance information for Phosphorus to bill your insurer.

Another option is to participate in Phosphorus’s COVID-19 research. If you meet the criteria for their studies, your test kit and results will be provided for free, and you will also receive an Amazon gift card as a bonus for participating.

Interpreting At-Home Test Results

The results of an at-home COVID-19 test will usually be reported as either positive or negative.

A positive test means that there were components of the virus’s genetic material found in your sample. If you test positive, take precautions to quarantine and avoid putting others at risk of infection. You should contact your doctor to find out if any other steps are necessary. You or your doctor may need to contact the local health department that tracks the number of COVID-19 cases in your area.

A negative test means that no traces of SARS-CoV-2 were identified in your sample. While this means that no active infection was found, it does not guarantee that you do not have COVID-19. If you take the test too soon after exposure to the virus, you may test negative despite the presence of an infection.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should contact your doctor even if you have a negative result on an at-home test. In addition, it is important to maintain precautions like wearing a mask, washing your hands, and avoiding close contact or large gatherings regardless of your test result.

Are test results accurate?

In general, at-home PCR tests are effective at determining whether or not you have an active infection with SARS-CoV-2. However, like any test, they are not perfect and are not always accurate.

At-home PCR tests for COVID-19 have only recently been developed, so in-depth studies of their accuracy relative to laboratory-based tests are limited. Early studies, though, have found these tests to be generally accurate but in some cases less precise than laboratory testing.

In both the laboratory and at-home, the accuracy of test results can depend on the type of sample that is taken, proper collection of that sample, and the technology used to detect the genetic material of the virus.

Do I need follow-up tests? 

Whether you need any follow-up tests will depend on the reason for testing and your test result. If you test positive and have symptoms, you may need another PCR test that is done by a laboratory in order to confirm the diagnosis of COVID-19. Depending on your symptoms, other tests may be used to evaluate your health.

If you test positive but do not have symptoms, it may be sufficient to quarantine without the need for any other testing. However, you should discuss this situation with your doctor to determine the most appropriate next steps.

If you test negative, you often do not need any further tests. In some cases, though, a follow-up test performed by a laboratory may be required.

Questions for your doctor after at-home testing

If you’ve recently taken an at-home test for COVID-19, it can be helpful to discuss your results with your physician. Some of the following questions may be useful when talking to your doctor.

  • Is the test that I took reliable?
  • Do I need any follow-up tests?
  • Based on my test results, what measures or precautions should I be taking to protect myself or others from the virus?

Related Tests

Many types of COVID-19 tests have been developed since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The following sections help explain how at-home PCR testing compares to some of these options.

How does laboratory and at-home PCR testing for COVID-19 compare?

At-home PCR tests use a similar type of sample and technology to detect traces of the virus. Both approaches are typically accurate, although there may be some improvement in accuracy when testing is done in a laboratory rather than with rapid self-tests.

Other important differences include:

  • Sample collection: For traditional laboratory approaches, the sample is collected by a health care professional. For at-home tests, you collect your own test sample.
  • Testing equipment: Although they use the same technological approach, laboratory equipment can differ from the equipment for point-of-care tests.
  • Time to receive results: Most laboratories take one to three business days to do a PCR test. Self-test kits usually generate a result within 30 minutes.

How is an at-home PCR test different from a COVID-19 antigen test?

Like at-home PCR tests, antigen tests look for signs of an active infection with SARS-CoV-2. But these tests measure different things in order to determine whether you have COVID-19.

Antigens are proteins on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that the immune system recognizes in order to generate an immune response. An antigen test is designed to detect these markers of infection.

Antigen tests are normally performed with the same type of sample as a PCR, and rapid, at-home antigen tests are available. While usually accurate, antigen tests are normally considered to be somewhat less dependable than PCR tests. For that reason, in some situations the results of an antigen test may need to be confirmed by a PCR.

How is an at-home PCR test different from a COVID-19 antibody test?

A COVID-19 antibody test looks for indications of a past infection with SARS-CoV-2. In this way, it is distinct from a PCR, which tries to detect a current infection.

Antibodies are proteins that are produced as part of the body’s immune response to viruses. These antibodies can be found in the blood, so a COVID-19 antibody test looks for antibodies specific to SARS-CoV-2 in a blood sample.

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