We’ve updated this guide with more at-home antigen tests that now have FDA emergency use authorization and are for sale. The makers say these tests should be able to detect the new Omicron variant.
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December 21, 2021
Rapid antigen tests offer a quick and easy way to screen for COVID-19 at home, detecting active infections, including in asymptomatic individuals, in about 15 minutes. Often called just “rapid tests” or “at-home COVID tests,” more brands of at-home tests are now available, and they can be a valuable tool for managing life during the pandemic.
Overall, molecular lab tests—the most well-known type being a PCR test (polymerase chain reaction, a technique used in the lab)—are still considered the gold standard for confirming or ruling out a COVID-19 infection. But while antigen tests are not as sensitive, they can detect whether there is “a level of the virus that we have to be concerned that somebody could transmit (COVID-19) to someone else,” said Dr. Clare Rock, a clinical epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who runs a COVID-19 infection-control consultancy.
Testing frequently—for school, before and after a large indoor gathering, before seeing a vulnerable person—can help lower risks, and depending on your situation, it may make sense to keep a few of these tests on hand, especially as availability continues to be unpredictable. A negative result, however, doesn’t necessarily mean someone doesn’t have COVID-19—for instance, if you swab too soon after a potential exposure, you may test negative even if you are carrying the virus. “We typically recommend getting tested three to five days after exposure,” said Dr. Matthew McCarthy, an associate professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.
By late 2021, 13 rapid antigen tests had earned FDA authorization for at-home use. Any FDA-authorized tests may meet your needs, but below are three we’ve found to be typically available (though stock fluctuates frequently) and relatively affordable:
Abbott BinaxNow COVID-19 Antigen Self Tests
A popular test to stock up on, Abbott’s BinaxNow COVID-19 Antigen Self Test comes with two tests, doesn’t require a smartphone app, and is often available at a discount.
Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test
No app required
Available through several major retailers, the Quidel QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test also includes two tests and doesn’t require a smartphone app.
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Intrivo On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test
Guided by a smartphone app
The Intrivo On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test (also two tests per box) pairs with a smartphone app that walks you through testing (including a timer to ensure you’re taking the proper amount of time to collect your sample) and displays the results on your phone.