In the early months of the pandemic, getting a coronavirus test typically required visiting a health care center, a laboratory or a dedicated testing site, a process that sometimes involved long lines and waiting a week or more to get the results.
Americans can now take rapid virus tests from the comfort of their own homes. Many of these tests are available without a prescription and return results in just 15 minutes.
Demand for the tests has surged in recent months, as the highly infectious Delta variant has spread and schools and offices have reopened. “All the manufacturers are ramping up production, but right now they can be hard to find,” said Gigi Gronvall, a testing expert at Johns Hopkins University.
Although rapid tests have their limitations, they are an important public health tool, experts said, particularly if you know how to use them.
“Having that information and being able to make better decisions is very powerful,” said Mara Aspinall, an expert in biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University who is also on the board of directors of OraSure, which makes rapid Covid tests. “And the ability to do this on a while-you-wait basis is something that we couldn’t do a year ago.”
What kinds of tests are available?
A handful of rapid at-home tests are available without a prescription, including the Abbott BinaxNOW, the Ellume Covid-19 Home Test and the Quidel QuickVue At-Home Covid-19 Test. Prices range from about $10 to $40 per test, though President Biden has announced plans to reduce prices by roughly one-third.
All three detect small viral proteins, called antigens. The tests require rubbing a shallow nasal swab inside your nostrils and then exposing the swab to a few drops of chemicals. They provide results in about 15 minutes.
The tests themselves are fairly straightforward, but each one involves a slightly different procedure, which should be followed to the letter. “If you’re doing at-home tests, you must read the instructions and…