Testing for COVID-19: Home or lab?

Special Reports

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – Standing in long lines to check for COVID-19, is now a thing of the past. The demand for at-home COVID test kits is skyrocketing in America.

As the nations grow accustomed to getting back into the swing of things, vaccine mandates or negative-test results are becoming more of a norm. Rapid testing is a quick solution for people looking to travel for the holidays, head to work, attend school or live music events, etc.  

“We’ve had a lot of COVID activity in East Texas for months on end. I think some people are doing what I did, and wisely buying a few kits.”

Tom Cummins, Division Chief Medical Officer at UT Health East Texas.

Right now, there are three different forms of testing for the coronavirus: molecular, antigen, and antibody. Molecular or polymerase chain reaction or PCR tests, can detect the virus through a simple nasal or saliva sample by identifying the genetic material inside. Most at-home test kits are antigen tests, and they detect the virus proteins, delivering quicker results than molecular or PCR tests. However, can faster results be trusted?

According to Tom Cummins with UT Health, the tests are a valuable tool.

“I do encourage people to get some if they have them. I think they’re great for using before you go travel, or if you’re starting to have symptoms to say, ‘hey let me check before I go to church today. I have a cough, a little bit of congestion, maybe I should make sure before I go expose several hundred of my closest friends to my COVID” said Cummins.

The test’s easy solution in spotting and stopping the spread is contributing to the massive demand from buyers, but along with it comes a shortage of supplies.

The demand is high. We’ve had a lot of COVID activity in East Texas for months on end. I think some people are doing what I did and wisely buying a few kits. So that, if I become systematic, or if I’m about to travel to see somebody I might give it to, I can test before I go. I think you’re seeing some of that coupled with struggles in the supply chain to keep stores supplied with them.”

Tom Cummins, Division Chief Medical Officer at UT Health East Texas

Looking to address the issue, on Monday, the Biden administration announced its steps to ramp up the availability of rapid-at-home coronavirus tests while driving down the costs. The White House is looking to invest nearly $70 million by the National Institutes of Health, using money from the American Rescue Plan.

For Shawn Sams, a pharmacist and owner of Louis Morgan Drugs #4 in Longview, at-home COVID test kits have been flying off the shelves. This quick form of testing is hard to come by at his pharmacy, and when they finally become available, the product is gone in an instant.

“The availability of at-home tests is very low right now. It’s almost impossible to get. If we receive any it’s either one or two, and by the time we put them on the shelf, it’s already gone,” said Sams.

Familiar tests to come by in the East Texas area are the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test at Home Kit and the QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test Kit. Here’s what you should know:

BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test at Home Kit

The BinaxNow is one of the first at-home rapid antigen tests to earn FDA authorization. It comes with two test kits, and results are delivered in 15 minutes. The box instructions recommend you test for the virus twice with a minimum of 36 hours between tests. It advertises itself as a product that is both simple and easy to use with a mere “do it yourself” nasal swab test kit with easy instructions.

After dealing with minor symptoms, I decided to test for the virus myself. I found the instructions easy to follow and got my negative test result a short 15 minutes later.

QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test Kit

The QuickVue test kit is also fairly simple to use and resembles the BinaxNow at-home rapid antigen tests earning FDA authorization. The kit also offers two tests with the intent to be used twice over two to three days with at least 24 hours and no more than 36 hours in between tests. QuickVue reveals results in a mere 10 minutes. Tend to your garden, wash the dishes, throw a load in the wash, and bam. Your results will be ready.

Currently, none of the at-home COVID tests have reached full FDA approval, but have received EUA (Emergency Use Authorization).

“It’s an emergency situation where we needed for people to be able to test at home for a variety of reasons. Basically, it’s a way for them to get the product to the shelf to the market to the public without going through the study that would typically be done for full approval. I would imagine most will be authorized and approved by the FDA at some time. But, because we’re trying to get this out so quickly, this emergency authorization use is what happened,”  said Sams.

At-home tests also may raise the topic of “underreporting” when it comes to accurately assessing COVID statistics. The “do it yourself” styled testing suggests an “honor-system” approach.

“Some people may get a positive result, and if they don’t do anything about it, they don’t go see a physician. Or, they don’t get another test at a pharmacy or a physician’s office. Those numbers are not being recorded and that can cause some underreporting of active cases,” said Sams. He, along with Tom Cummins with UT Health, suggests seeing a physician following a positive test result is a good way to avoid underreporting and maintaining your health.

All in all, as the world opens back up and demands assurance of proof documenting a negative test result. The at-home test is a fast and somewhat affordable solution in getting back to the normalcy that we all crave.

“Everybody wants to know whether they have COVID or not. They’re sitting at the house. They don’t feel well, they have the sniffles,” said Sams.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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