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How reliable are at-home COVID test kits?

Published: Sep. 15, 2021 at 5:50 PM EDT|Updated: 14 hours ago
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont is adding new contact tracers, testing sites and self-administered test kits to try to get a handle on an uptick in COVID cases. But those tests can be tough to come by and expensive if you can find them. And they may not always provide accurate results.

“As COVID cases potentially might start climbing back up again with people in school, I think it’s going to become really handy for a lot of those people,” said Mia Kovacs, a UVM student.

Kovacs is talking about at-home rapid antigen COVID-19 test kits which are sold at pharmacies throughout the region.

“The big reason why we’re seeing them is because there is such a burden on the health care system right now. There are so many people that are trying to get tests, so obviously, the arrival of an at-home testing kit is super-advantageous,” said Ryan Quinn of Lakeside Pharmacy.

But Quinn says convenience and accessibility do not always equal accuracy in these rapid antigen tests.

“If you leave them out for too long they can give you false negatives and false positives. I have heard both of them,” Quinn said.

Dr. Christina Wojewoda is a pathologist at UVM. She shares statistics from a study showing antigen tests frequently produce inaccurate results.

“Forty-nine percent of asymptomatic people were negative half the time and they should have been positive from antigen, and that only was a little bit better if the patient was symptomatic-- about 52%,” Wojewoda said.

Despite these accuracy statistics, there is still a shortage of these at-home test kits. This is something that pharmacists at Lakeside Pharmacy say has been unprecedented during this pandemic time.

“We’re seeing our distributors and wholesalers who we’d typically get these tests through are not able to meet the demand that’s currently happening right now. It’s kind of unprecedented in how many people are all of a sudden testing,” Quinn said.

Quinn attributes this to more people traveling and more places requiring a negative test for entry. State-run COVID test sites use PCR technology which is more accurate. But it can take up to 72 hours to get results instead of the 15-30 minutes when you use an at-home test.

“Their accessibility is not a substitute for going and getting a reliable test that can detect with a fair amount of certainty whether you do or do not,” Quinn said.

And he says that’s especially true if you’re unvaccinated.

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