As of press time, the FDA has given emergencyuse authorization to three home-based, self-administered tests. (More may have come out since.)
While offering convenience and speed, the tests come with limitations. Katina Murray, MD, a UCLA family medicine physician in downtown Los Angeles, and Jacob Gold, MD, a UCLA internal medicine physician in Beverly Hills, discuss homebased tests and offer guidance for defending against the coronavirus.
They use nasal swabs and provide results in 30 minutes or less, Dr. Gold explains. “Two of the tests are antigen tests, and one is an RNA test, which is considered more accurate. But the gold standard of testing, which we use at the clinic, is PCR testing,” he says.
“While the tests boast an accuracy rate greater than 90%, that rate was obtained in a highly controlled testing environment,” Dr. Murray says. “In the real world, you have to account for some degree of user error.” Other factors also can impact test results. “These tests provide limited information. A false negative is more likely if you’re in the early stages of infection or have no symptoms when you take the test,” Dr. Murray says. “If there is a high rate of COVID-19 in your area, you’re having symptoms or you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive, you can be pretty confident in a positive result. But if you test negative, there’s still a chance that you have the virus.” People who test positive should self-isolate for at least 10 days from the start of their symptoms. People exposed to someone who has tested positive should self-isolate and get tested five days after the exposure.
“If you have access, testing with your health care provider is preferable,” Dr. Murray says. “You’ll get a higher quality test administered by someone who knows how to sample correctly. If you have moderate symptoms, your doctor can advise you on how to treat them. And if you have severe symptoms, you should be seen in person, probably in the hospital.”
An individual piece of Swiss cheese has holes, but when you stack several slices, a l l t he holes get covered. In the same way, using multiple means of protection can help prevent the spread of coronavirus. A COVID test is one “layer” of protection.
“There’s no substitute for masking, handwashing, social distancing and avoiding crowded spaces,” Dr. Gold says.
“Keeping with the cheese metaphor, the vaccine is the biggest, thickest slice. It’s most likely to help you avoid getting COVID or to have a mild case if you do,” Dr. Murray says. “Even after vaccination, you should still continue with the other protective measures.” Dr. Gold adds, “I want to address some concerns I’ve heard from patients. You absolutely cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine, nor does it affect your genome. The vaccines are extremely safe. When your turn comes to get one, you should take it without hesitation,” he says