The COVID-19 home rapid test kits are valuable tools for determining the likelihood of COVID-19 transmission to others. They provide quick and fairly accurate results – if used correctly. Below, we answer some common questions about the quality of home tests, how to use them, and how to use the results.

How do rapid tests compare to tests done in a lab or doctor’s office?
Although there are many COVID-19 tests, they can generally be divided into two types: molecular tests and antigen tests.

Molecular tests include nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT) such as polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR or PCR) tests. They are usually performed in a laboratory and are generally more accurate than antigen tests, but results may take longer.

Rapid home tests are antigen tests that use a different mechanism to detect infection. These tests can be done at home with a kit that looks similar to a pregnancy test and provides results within 10-15 minutes.

Antigen tests are still quite accurate, especially if someone has symptoms and the viral load is very high. However, they can be less accurate if someone has a lower viral load, such as someone without symptoms or someone in the very early stages of infection. This can lead to false-negative test results. For example, a false-negative result can occur if you get tested too soon after coming into contact with someone with COVID-19, or if you get tested when you have no symptoms.

When should I use a rapid test and when should I have a test done in the lab or at a healthcare facility?
The main difference between rapid antigen tests and PCR tests is that rapid tests are not always sensitive enough to tell you definitively if you have COVID-19 – what they can tell you better is your contagiousness and the likelihood of transmission to others.

False-positive results on rapid tests are very unlikely; if you get a positive result, you most likely have COVID-19. If your COVID-19 rapid test comes back negative, there is still a chance you are infected. However, a negative result indicates that your viral load is not high enough to be detected by the test at that time, and therefore you are less likely to transmit it to others. Therefore, you should get tested on the day you meet others to make sure your infection status is as current and accurate as possible.

Serial testing, i.e., performing another test 1-2 days after the first negative test, maybe another strategy to improve accuracy (if the first test was performed too early in the course of infection).

You should have a molecular test, such as a PCR test, performed at a facility that offers laboratory testing, such as Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, if….

You have symptoms of COVID-19 – even if you are fully vaccinated (this includes people with symptoms suggestive of FAST AND ACCURATE COVID-19 but a negative result on a rapid home antigen test).
You do not have symptoms of COVID-19 but are known or suspected to be exposed to COVID-19. In this case, you should get tested and go into quarantine until test results are available. The CDC recommends testing at least 5 days after the last exposure. Check your local health department website for more information on testing options that may shorten this quarantine period.
Your healthcare provider has recommended testing. Stay in touch with your healthcare provider after testing to discuss the next steps.

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