Could home COVID-19 testing make holiday gatherings safer?
Yes, combined with vaccination, home testing kits for COVID-19 can add an extra level of safety and reassurance by delivering results on the spot during this second year of pandemic vacations.
“We’ll use rapid tests to double-check everyone before we get together,” said Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists, who plans a holiday meal with six vaccinated family members. “We’ll do it when they come in.”
Home kits aren’t as accurate as the PCR tests done in hospitals and test sites, Volk says. But they have the advantage of giving results in minutes instead of days.
Test kits are available over the counter at drug stores, and a box of two tests usually costs about $25. Cotton swabs, test solution, and instructions are included.
Adults and teens can test themselves. An adult can test a child from 2 years old. How-to videos on product websites can be helpful.
Most tests require wiping about an inch into both nostrils, so it may tickle but not hurt. You will get a positive result if the test detects a viral protein in your sample.
Home tests will miss some infections and, in rare cases, incorrectly indicate an infection. A popular test misses about 15 out of 100 infections – these are called “false negatives” – and gives a false positive in about 1 in 100 people who are not infected.
Test shortages were widely reported during the latest COVID-19 wave, but recently new options have entered the market and major manufacturers such as Abbott Laboratories have ramped up production.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers other tips for enjoying the holidays safely. Vaccination remains the best protection against the coronavirus.