COVID-19, aka coronavirus—the pandemic that is shaking our world to its core, is a pernicious disease that’s baffling scientists and the entire medical profession. But clarity is available on the personal front. There are COVID home-test kits and lab centers that can help you determine if you have been infected with the coronavirus as well as if you have the necessary antibodies to fight the infection. Here’s everything you need to know about testing for the virus that is changing the way we live life from one moment to the next.
There are several types of COVID tests that fall into 2 main categories. There’s an antibody test and a COVID antigen test. The COVID test for antibodies is a simple blood test. It will tell you if you have been exposed to the coronavirus, and whether your body has developed the antibodies it needs to protect itself against this invader.
COVID-19 antibody test kits check for immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies. If you were exposed to COVID, then your body will have produced the IgG antibodies, and they’ll show up in your blood test. It can take up to 14 days to create these antibodies, though most people (roughly 91%) develop them earlier.
Currently, there aren’t any at-home COVID-19 antibody tests. However, you can go to a lab to get your blood test for COVID-19 antibodies. It’s good to know if you have antibodies, but it’s also important to know that having antibodies doesn’t mean you are immune from catching coronavirus again.
The antibody test is not the same as a COVID antigen test. The second type of COVID testing is for the actual disease. It tests to see if you currently have an active infection. This is even more important to know because if your test comes back positive, it means you are an active carrier of the disease and can pass it along to other people.
COVID home-tests are currently available for the COVID antigen testing. This is extremely useful for several reasons. First of all, it means you don’t have to go into a lab, testing center, hospital, or doctor’s office. If you are already not feeling well, then staying at home to get tested is certainly more convenient and more comfortable for you. What’s more, staying at home ensures that you don’t expose the general public to your symptoms, further spreading the disease to others. So a COVID home-test kit is a good idea for everyone involved.
Here’s how the at-home COVID test kits work:
1. Go online and order your kit.
Be sure to choose a COVID home test that is reputable and delivers accurate results (more on that below). Most FDA-approved services will require you to take an assessment test to determine your risk of infection.
2. The kit will be delivered to your home.
This is generally done via express mail. You’ll need to register your kit before getting started. Do this by logging onto your online account, and entering the kit registration number.
3. Take your sample.
How the sample is collected varies depending on which testing service you use. Most COVID home test kits require a nasal swab. However, there are some COVID saliva tests. These are even less invasive than the nasal swabs. Of course, if you’re going to a lab, the technicians will take care of the sample collection for you.
4. Return your sample and wait for results.
If you have opted for a mail-in COVID test kit, make sure to get one that provides a return envelope for your sample. Most of them offer free return shipping either via USPS or some expedited service. Results will be published to your online account and you’ll receive an email notifying you that the results are available. You’ll also receive instructions and follow-up information regarding the COVID-19 virus.
5. If your results come back positive, you’ll be instructed on what to do to ensure your own health is maintained as well as the health of those around you.
Most testing services will provide health care support services if you test positive. This can include arranging a call with a nurse or doctor, a video consultation about the results, guides for self-isolation and distancing, and other useful medical recommendations.
How long it takes to get your results also depends on the type of test and testing service you’re using. Testing centers and labs can usually get you your results within 24 hours, although during times of increased testing, it can take up to 2 days. At-home COVID test kit results often take up to 72 hours.
If you are worried that you have the coronavirus, you might be tempted to Google “same-day COVID testing near me” to find a lab quickly. This is not recommended. COVID testing needs to be done by a reputable testing center in order to return accurate results. Trusting an unaffiliated lab can result in false positives or negatives.
COVID-19 antibody test kits generally run between $120-$150, as do the COVID antigen tests.
Blood tests for COVID-19 require certification in order to be relied upon for accurate test results. When comparing test services, look for one that is FDA-approved (including FDA authorization for Emergency Use), follow CDC testing recommendations, and uses CLIA-certified labs.
If you have felt any of the common symptoms of COVID, including fever, loss of smell/taste, dry cough, slurred speech, shortness of breath, weakness or lethargy, and/or diarrhea or vomiting, order your own mail-in COVID test and be in touch with your primary care physician or local hospital to discuss whether or not you should be tested and how.