How Does an At-Home COVID Test Work

Man holding test

As more people are getting vaccinated it might feel like there is a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, but COVID-19 tests are still important to help end the pandemic. Widespread testing helps to find early detection of outbreaks, gauges ongoing effectiveness of the vaccine, helps to find new variants, and gives the ability to help to those infected, even if they are vaccinated. 

The Food and Drug Administration has issued Emergency Use Authorization to more than 150 diagnostic Covid-19 tests, and many of these can be done from the comfort of your own home. 

When purchasing an at-home COVID test, there are a few things to consider: Cost, speed, and spit versus swab. 

Cost: 

At-home covid tests range from $99-$200, and you will receive by mail after requesting through the companies website. The cost is high, but depending on your health insurance plan, there may be some reimbursement available. 

Speed: 

All seem to currently have the same model. Request a test, wait for it by mail, take the test and then send it back and await your results. This can take 5-7 days from request to results, but this wont always be the case: The FDA has green-lit 5 rapid tests that you can take at home. This will give people a less expensive option, with quick results from the comfort of your home. The rub? They are not currently available. 

Spit vs. Swab: 

Is it better to spit in a tube or swab your nose? While the nose swab seems to remain the preferred method for PCR testing, The Lancet recently published an article stating, "Saliva as a gold standard sample for SARS-CoV-2 detection."

How it works: 

I was given an at-home saliva COVID test to try from Wellness 4 Humanity. From their site, you can order a single test for $149 or a 4-pack for $559

The packaging states that in order to take your sample you cannot eat or drink, smoke or chew gum for 30-minutes before collecting your saliva sample. 

The directions are clear, the process simple. It took me less than 10 minutes to complete the test from registering my kit, spitting, and packing up my spit tube. I dropped my package the same day I took the test and I received my results 2 days later by email.  

Pros 

  • It's very easy to collect. You spit into a tube to the level of a clearly marked black line. It took me roughly 4 minutes from first spit to hitting the line.
  • I liked not having to wonder about whether I inserted a swab far enough into my nasal cavity. 
  • The directions and packaging make it very simple. 

Cons 

  • The wait: it takes several days to a week to get your results from the time you order the test. Some people may require quicker test results due to their work or home environment, symptoms or other factors. If you can't stay home while you wait for your results (for example, if your employer requires it), or you need quicker results for any other reason, an at-home COVID-19 test is not right for you. 

Overall, I found this as a great option since my health insurance would likely reimburse this payment, I can work from home, and I have been a strong supporter of regular testing for COVID.