At-home coronavirus tests: When to take them, how to get them and more

While at-home coronavirus tests can be a useful diagnostic tool, experts say the tests aren't 100 percent accurate and a negative result shouldn’t be thought of as a “pass.” (iStock)

The highly transmissible omicron variant of the coronavirus is fueling new case spikes and sending people scrambling for at-home test kits that can quickly detect an infection.

“You have the result in 15 minutes, and you don’t need to go anywhere,” said Clare Rock, an infectious-disease physician and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She added: “People have the autonomy to take some of this into their own hands.”

A number of at-home coronavirus test kits have been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration and can be purchased without a prescription online or from drugstores. Public health officials are urging Americans to get tested before traveling or gathering with friends and family members, making rapid tests an important tool for curbing a variant that is expected to cause record-high covid-19 hospitalizations in the United States.

Health officials say omicron variant likely to cause record-high coronavirus cases, hospitalizations in U.S.

But research into whether the tests can detect the latest variant has just started (early results suggest that the Abbott BinaxNOW and Quidel QuickVue tests can do so, according to the FDA). And experts also emphasize that the tests are not 100 percent accurate and that a negative result shouldn’t be thought of as a “pass” to live as if there weren’t a pandemic.

Here’s what else you need to know about home tests — when to take them, how to get them and how to interpret the results.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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