At-Home Coronavirus Tests Are In the Works
Not only would at-home coronavirus tests be more convenient, but they'd also potentially help slow the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S.
If you've been following coronavirus news, then you know the U.S. hasn't been doing so hot in terms of testing. Healthcare providers have been dealing with a shortage of test kits, creating a lag in the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Don't lose hope. Coronavirus tests are making their way to hospitals and labs across the U.S. Case in point: Roche Diagnostics recently received FDA approval for emergency use authorization of its COVID-19 tests. As of March 13, Roche has started making weekly shipments of 400,000 COVID-19 tests to hospitals and labs across the country.
But to help address the urgent need for more tests, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced an "unprecedented" move on Monday. Companies and labs that are developing COVID-19 tests no longer have to wait to receive approval for emergency use authorization from the FDA for the tests. Instead, the agency called for states to take charge of authorizing tests that are accurate, meaning the validity of the tests will be determined by the state, rather than the federal government.
That said, some companies are currently working on developing COVID-19 tests to not only provide to health centers but eventually deliver directly to consumers. Beyond just a convenience factor, the hope is that by making coronavirus home test kits available, people can take measures to help slow the spread of the virus while still getting tested.
In fact, health experts are also on board for home coronavirus testing in the U.S. In a recent paper published in JAMA Health Forum, two doctors laid out the possible benefits of making these at-home tests available. An at-home testing system could mean more people could get tested at a lower cost, including people who might live far from a health center, the doctors argued in their paper. Plus, if people have the option of testing at home, they won't have to venture to the hospital and potentially expose people to COVID-19 while they're out, according to the paper. Coronavirus home tests could also help relieve the burden placed on hospitals amid the coronavirus pandemic, as many health centers have been overwhelmed by the rapidly-increasing COVID-19 cases, the doctors wrote. For these reasons, the authors of the paper proposed that the federal government take measures to encourage health centers to start working on home testing programs. (Related: Can I Run Outside During the Coronavirus Pandemic?)
Companies Developing At-Home Coronavirus Tests
Amazon and the Gates Foundation
Amazon Care (a virtual medical clinic for Amazon employees) has teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on a project to distribute and process home coronavirus tests in Seattle, one of the hardest-hit regions in the U.S. amid the COVID-19 pandemic, reports CNBC. While there are currently very few details about the project, the coronavirus home test kits would reportedly be delivered to folks at no cost, allowing people to test themselves via nose swabs that would then be mailed to the University of Washington for analysis, according to CNBC. (Related: Does Ibuprofen Really Make the Coronavirus Worse?)
This week, telemedicine company myLAB Box opened up a pre-sale for at-home coronavirus tests. At this point, the pre-sale is only open to health pros at clinics, doctor's offices, pharmacies, etc. But "plans to announce a direct-to-consumer solution are imminent," according to a press release. If you're a health professional and want to sign up for the pre-sale, you can apply at mylabbox.us.
Patients who get the myLAB Box test will be able to automatically have their coronavirus home test results shared with their physician. Once people are able to buy directly from the company, their coronavirus home tests will come with free 1-day shipping and access to telemedicine consultations. (Related: These Trainers and Studios Are Offering Free Online Workout Classes Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic)
Nurx, a telemedicine platform that offers birth control, PrEP, and STI test delivery, is also working on an at-home coronavirus testing service. Similar to myLAB Box's approach, Nurx intends to prioritize delivering kits to certain groups before rolling out the tests to the masses. "We will focus our testing efforts on people who have had direct exposure to COVID-19 and/or those who are experiencing symptoms," the company stated in an announcement. "For those who we believe are at high-risk, we will be recommending in-person testing and care."
To be clear, Nurx doesn't plan on sending coronavirus home test kits to people who aren't experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. "Because testing capacity will be limited, we will not be able to offer home tests or online consultations to people who do not have specific symptoms or risk factors," reads the announcement.
How to Handle a Possible Coronavirus Infection In the Meantime
While you wait on coronavirus home testing kits, if you think you have the coronavirus, your best bet is to call up your doctor and follow their instructions. For those with confirmed coronavirus infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a face mask and staying quarantined except for medical appointments. If you experience worsening symptoms (like shortness of breath), give your doctor a call ASAP for more guidance. (Here's a more detailed breakdown on what to do if you think you have the coronavirus.)
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.