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How accurate are at-home COVID tests?

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 6:46 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - President Joe Biden has outlined his plan to keep fighting COVID-19 into the new year.

Part of that plan includes free at home COVID tests, but how accurate are those tests and how will those test be covered?

The Alabama Department of Public Health admits there’s some confusion when it comes to those rapid antigen tests, and the laboratory screened PCR tests.

A doctor did attempt to clear up some of the confusion as those free at-home tests are expected to arrive early next year.

“The bottom line this winter, you’ll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind.”

President Joe Biden’s plan would require insurance companies to cover the cost of home COVID tests. 15 million of them will be sent to community health centers and rural clinics for those who don’t have insurance or are covered by Medicaid.

It’s not yet clear how many tests would be covered, but how useful will all of this home testing be?

“We have a lot of geography, and we, and physicians and testing centers might not be accessible to all of our individuals. So, if you are one of those individuals that may live in one of those very rural counties, you may not have the ability to get to a center and get tested. So, it is definitely filling a gap,” said District Medical Officer for ADPH, Dr. Wes Stubblefield.

Dr. Stubblefield said at-home tests are useful, but they do have some limitations.

“If you’ve been directly exposed to COVID, there is very little reason to take a home test because it might mislead you into thinking that you’re okay,” Dr. Stubblefield said.

Because there is so much community spread of COVID, Dr. Stubblefield said a positive test is usually accurate regardless of whether it’s done at home or in a doctor’s office.

But negative results from a rapid or at-home test are not reliable.

“It is possible to have false-negatives for a variety of different reasons including you didn’t get a good enough swab, the test itself didn’t work properly, it’s been a little too early. So, my advice is is that if you know you’ve been exposed, or you have very classic COVID symptoms, don’t mess with a home test. If you’ve lost your sense of taste and smell, and you’ve been around somebody who’s had coronavirus, go and see your provider,” Dr. Stubblefield said.

Dr. Stubblefield said the PCR test is the most reliable and accurate, so if your COVID test is negative and your symptoms worsen, he recommends getting a PCR test.

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