Home COVID-19 tests: FDA says kits may be less sensitive to omicron. What to know today

Demand for COVID-19 test kits at home has skyrocketed as the omicron variant rises across the United States.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

Visit the websites of the WHO and the CDC for the most up-to-date news and information on the coronavirus pandemic.

As omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the holiday season by the end of the year, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday home test kits may not be that good by detection of the mutated virus strain. “Early data suggest that antigen tests detect the omicron variant, but may have reduced sensitivity,” the FDA said.

Concerns about omicron have led to a lack of test kits and increased the cost of test programs in many states. In response, manufacturers have increased production, and the Food and Drug Administration has approved new tests at an unprecedented rate: Acon Laboratories says it will be able to produce more than 100 million Flowflex COVID-19 home test kits per month by the end of 2021. , and more than 200 million. In february.

We share what we know now and will continue to update this story as we learn more details, including when the federal reimbursement program will begin and exactly how it will work. Also get the latest news about Pfizer COVID-19 pill Paxlovid, updates regarding mask mandates and how to choose a booster shot.

Read more: Smart COVID-19 booster shot trick: Write this issue for free rides, easy appointments

How effective are home test kits at detecting omicron?

Home test kits are less effective at detecting COVID-19 infections than PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, the FDA said, but the home antigen tests “may have reduced sensitivity” to the omicron variant.

Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said during a White House briefing Wednesday that the kits are still an important tool in controlling the spread of the virus. “The fact that the sensitivity has diminished somewhat does not obviate the importance of the benefits and applicability of these tests in different circumstances,” Fauci said, pointing to tests at family gatherings and at schools.

When will there be free home covid-19 tests available?

From the beginning of next year, over-the-counter covid-19 test kits will be available for free to everyone: According to a plan announced by President Joe Biden, health insurance companies will be required to reimburse Americans for antigen testing at home, which can cost more than $ 25 every.

Those who do not have health insurance will also have access to free kits at health centers and other community sites. The Biden administration has promised to make 50 million tests available at such sites.

The White House has said it will issue reimbursement guidelines to health insurance companies by January 15, and businesses are expected to begin reimbursing the cost of home testing shortly thereafter. However, the plan is not expected to have retroactive effect, so sets purchased before then are unlikely to be covered.

Some states, including Vermont, have mandated insurance companies to start paying for home sets now. Others, including Washington, New Hampshire and New Jersey, have begun issuing free test kits to residents of their states. Massachusetts plans to distribute 2.1 million free test kits to 100 municipalities. On Monday, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced a new plan to deliver 3 million home tests and 6 million N95 masks to nationals from Dec. 30.

If you do not live in one of these states, you may want to check with your employer as some private companies have started offering reimbursement options for home testing.

Once the White House plan goes into effect, anyone with insurance will be able to submit a receipt or other proof of payment for refund after purchasing a test. The process is similar to visiting an on-site test facility and submitting your bill to a health insurance provider.

What if I do not have health insurance?

For those without insurance, Biden says there will be “thousands of locations” available to download COVID-19 test kits. You will be able to take the kit home to test privately, instead of being washed in a drive-thru clinic.

In its December 2 announcement, the Biden administration promised to distribute at least 50 million free tests to local health centers and other organizations.

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Where can I get a COVID-19 test at home?

Rapid COVID-19 tests at home are available at pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS and Walmart. You can also buy them online at Amazon or at pharmacies’ websites. It is currently unclear whether you can still claim them on your insurance when you buy online. Each box typically comes with two tests unless you buy in bulk.

How much does COVID-19 testing cost at home?

The FDA has approved 13 different fast home COVID-19 tests and 61 different home collection tests. Fast antigen tests are generally much cheaper than home collection tests. Costs vary from brand to brand, but the quick tests generally run around $ 10 to $ 12 apiece.

Both Walgreens and CVS sell Abbott’s BinaxNow and Quedel’s QuickVue test – two of the first authorized – for $ 24 for a pack of two. Acon’s FlowFlex quick test usually runs a little less – currently $ 10 for a test at both Walgreens and CVS.

Home collection tests – where a nasal swab or saliva sample is sent to a laboratory – cost much more than the rapid antigen tests. CVS and Walgreens sell Labcorps Pixel home collection test for $ 125.

Buying in bulk seems like a way to cut down on the cost of individual tests, but it has not happened in reality yet. Amazon is selling a two-pack of Intrivo’s On / Go quick test for $ 24.49 ($ 12.45 per piece), but the price of 40, at $ 499, is a little more per. test: $ 12.48 apiece.

Unfortunately, almost all of the mentioned tests are sold out for online purchase due to the busyness in December. We will continue to update this section as the availability of tests changes.

Do I need a quick home test or a PCR test?

The two main types of COVID-19 tests are rapid antigen tests and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. Antigen testing can be taken at home and return results in about 15 minutes. PCR testing requires laboratory work and generally gives results in 12 hours to 5 days.

Both types of tests mostly use nasal inoculation samples. PCR tests administered by a professional may require a nasopharyngeal sample involving a much deeper nostril. Rapid antigen testing usually requires swirling a cotton swab into the nostril less than an inch deep.

PCR tests amplify genetic material from the collected sample up to a billion times to detect even the smallest amount of COVID-19 genes, making them highly accurate. They are also more expensive and usually cost more than $ 100 per. PCS.

Rapid antigen tests simply detect the presence of antigens – the substances that cause your immune system to make antibodies – and work much like home pregnancy tests. If your sample contains COVID-19 antigens, the thin line of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies on the test strip will change color.

Because rapid tests simply look for the existence of antigens, they work best when someone is symptomatic. Rapid antigen tests are less successful with early infections and asymptomatic cases. The risk of a false negative is much higher with a quick test than a false positive.

The type of test you should choose depends mostly on your situation. Need results right now, with less accuracy? Then quickly antigen fits your bill. If you want closer to 100% accuracy and do not need instant results, “gold standard” PCR is your choice.

What should I do if my home test shows positive for COVID-19?

If you are taking a home test and it says you are positive for COVID-19, it is recommended that you submit your results to your health care provider. You should stay home and isolate yourself for at least 5 days or longer if you are symptomatic, according to new recommendations from the CDC.

Although the risk of false positive results from rapid tests is low, most medical experts and health officials still recommend confirming a positive home test with a subsequent PCR test.

For more information, here’s the latest on the federal vaccine mandate and everything you need to know about Modern booster shots.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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