The appeal of at-home COVID tests is obvious (what a time saver!), but are they accurate? Learn more about how these at-home COVID-19 tests work and what they cost, plus shop some of the best kits available.
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If you're looking to get tested for COVID-19, the draw of taking an at-home test is obvious. You can save time by skipping the line and avoid coming into contact with someone who might be infected. Pretty ideal. Below, an in-depth guide to at-home COVID-19 tests.

Types of At-Home Covid Tests

Similar to a health clinic, you have two options for at-home COVID tests. The most common pick is a rapid test, also known as an antigen test, which uses lab-made antibodies to detect antigens for SARS-CoV-2. Results typically come in about 15 minutes or less, making them a great choice for an extra layer of precaution before visiting loved ones or hosting an event. 

You can also take an RT-PCR test, also known as a molecular test. Considered the gold standard of at-home tests, they're likely to be highly accurate, according to Alexander J. McAdam, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Infectious Diseases Diagnostic Division at Boston Children's Hospital and associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School.

These tests "work by using chemical reactions that make many, many copies of the viral genome, and detecting those copies," explains Dr. McAdam. Once a lab technician receives a specimen (usually mucus from the throat or nose), they use a chemical to extract genetic material from any virus on the swab, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They then use a machine to detect whether COVID-19 is present; the machine indicates a "positive" or "negative" result. (Related: Everything You Need to Know About Coronavirus Testing)

Although you can collect PCR samples on your own, you'll need to send it off to a lab for results. This delays the final verdict, making molecular tests a less convenient option for anyone seeking immediate information. However, they're more accurate than a rapid test, which is less sensitive and often requires a second test taken a few days after the first.

Does Insurance Cover At-Home COVID tests?

While at-home COVID-19 tests are convenient and reliably accurate, they do have their drawbacks. For one, they cost money, whereas it's possible to find free in-office testing regardless of insurance status. That said, if you have insurance, your plan should reimburse your purchase of an at-home COVID-19 test, per President Biden's latest coronavirus response

The president's exact guidelines are still in the works, but federal legislation currently requires private health insurance plans to cover the cost of at-home tests when they're deemed medically appropriate by a health care provider. Meaning, as long as a doctor prescribes the test, your health insurance is required to cover the cost in its entirety. Depending on which at-home COVID-19 test you choose, the test-maker can bill your insurance directly. Alternatively, you might have to pay upfront and submit your itemized receipt to get reimbursed by your insurance. 

Another way to purchase an at-home COVID test is with your FSA (flexible spending account) or HSA (health savings account) — just be sure to hold onto your receipt. Typically part of your employee benefits, these accounts allow you to pay for medical expenses tax-free.

Are At-Home COVID Tests Accurate? 

The accuracy of your at-home test varies. William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, previously told Shape that PCR tests are likely to deliver correct results "if you get the timing right." 

However, he clarified that antigen tests require more scrutiny. They won't work right after exposure, as your body may not have hit a high-enough viral load to be detected. Similarly, rapid tests may not work too long after your symptoms have dissipated, as your viral load may be too low. Luckily, most at-home rapid tests come with two kits, allowing you to space out tests for the best results.

It's also important to note that most at-home COVID tests are currently emergency-use authorized by the FDA. That means they haven't gone through the same rigorous standards as an FDA-approved product — and a few brands have even had their authorization revoked after too many inaccurate results were given. Be sure to check out the FDA emergency-use authorization list for the most up-to-date information.

Where to Buy At-Home COVID Tests

At-home COVID tests are likely stocked in your local pharmacy, but it's also possible to purchase a test online without leaving your home. While holiday travel and the spread of the Omicron variant have caused many popular at-home kits to sell out, there are still plenty of FDA-authorized tests available online, including antigen and molecular options. Scroll down to discover where you can still score an at-home COVID-19 test to help keep you and those around you safe and healthy.

Related Items

Credit: Amazon

iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test

Buy It, $18

Stock your medicine cabinet with this affordable kit. It comes with two self-administered FDA-authorized antigen tests that deliver results within 15 minutes. The straightforward design requires users to take a nasal sample of both nostrils with a cotton swab. You then mix it with an included solution and apply at least three drops to a testing strip. If two lines appear on the strip, it indicates a positive result for COVID-19, while one line indicates negative. However, a negative result shouldn't be considered conclusive and should be followed by a second test a few days later to confirm.

Credit: Amazon

Lucira COVID-19 Test Kit

Buy It, $89

While most at-home COVID-19 molecular tests require you to wait days for results, Lucira's test kit gives answers in just 30 minutes. The only FDA-authorized molecular test done completely at home, it requires users to take their own nasal samples and mix them with an included solution. Once prepared, the tube goes into the battery-operated testing unit. The testing light will appear next to "positive" or "negative" within a half-hour. There are a couple downsides to this convenient test, however: The single-use unit feels wasteful for many users, and it's one of the most expensive choices on the list.

Credit: Amazon

Amazon COVID-19 Test Collection Kit DTC

Buy It, $40

When you're ready to use this FDA-authorized molecular kit, you'll register your test online, take a quick nasal sample, and drop off a prepaid package with your test tube at a participating UPS location. Free next-day shipping delivers the PCR test to the lab, and results are available within 24 hours of arrival on Amazon's special testing portal. Both FSA- and HSA-eligible, it comes with just one test and is only authorized for people ages 18 and up.

Covid Tests Update
Credit: Everlywell

BD Veritor At-Home COVID-19 Test

Buy It, $35

You'll need a smartphone to run this at-home rapid test, but it promises digital results within 15 minutes. Simply take a nasal swab, mix the testing solution, apply to the test strip, and set the timer on the app. (Children under 14 will require help with the test, while adolescents between 14 and 18 years old will require a parent or guardian's permission.) Once the time is up, take pictures of your testing strip and let the app determine your final results. Unlike other rapid tests with clearly labeled control and testing lines, this testing strip is difficult to understand without the smartphone application, so you'll need to be extra diligent with following instructions. But like other rapid tests, it comes with two separate tests designed to be used within 24 to 48 hours of each other.

Covid Tests Update
Credit: Everlywell

EverlyWell Health COVID-19 Test

Buy It, $109

This FDA-authorized kit requires you to collect your own sample before using the included free first-class shipping envelope to quickly send your test tube to the lab. Once it arrives, the lab delivers test results within 24 to 48 hours, making the entire process smoother than a visit to your local urgent care center. Also FSA- and HSA-eligible, it's approved for ages 18 and up, and 89 percent of reviewers have given the kit five stars.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.