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At-Home Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Testing Gaining Popularity Ahead Of Holidays

BOSTON (CBS) - Political leaders like Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and President Joe Biden have encouraged Americans to take advantage of at home rapid antigen COVID-19 tests as an additional way to stay safe over the holidays.

The tests give you immediate results at home, and cost about $20 for a pack of two at any local pharmacy.

CVS Pharmacies told WBZ in a statement, "We are well positioned and prepared to meet our customers' testing needs as we enter the holiday season, specifically with [over the counter] COVID-19 tests."

When a WBZ crew checked out four local pharmacies in one night – two CVS stores and two Walgreens – the shelves were empty, and the stores had run out of at home tests.

Doctors say these tests are a great resource for testing yourself and family members just to be sure you don't have COVID-19, to avoid bringing it into the home before a family gathering.

"Because for the first 2 to 3 days of having COVID-19, people are not symptomatic, but they are highly contagious," Dr. Mark Siedner of Mass General explained. "Tests allow us to find those people before they are symptomatic, but contagious, isolate them, and keep everyone else safe."

However, these at home tests are not as accurate as the PCR tests you receive at local testing sites. "For every hundred people that a PCR test would detect, these rapid tests will detect 70 or 80 of them," Dr. Siedner explained. "But importantly these rapid tests are good when people have a lot of virus. So the more virus around, the better the test will do."

Andrea Spano of North Reading experienced the unpredictability of the rapid at home tests. She is quarantined with COVID-19 now after a positive PCR, but when she first developed minor GI symptoms, she took 2 rapid at home tests a day apart just to be safe. "It was a false sense of security," she told WBZ. "I was really upset about it because first of all I would've gotten tested a lot sooner, and I really wasn't quarantining until I got the results from urgent care just because I felt very confident that I didn't have COVID." Spano says she hopes her situation warns others to go get tested even if you have mild symptoms.

The rapid at home tests, "are not perfect, which means that if you have symptoms that you think might be COVID-19 and a rapid test is negative, don't be overly reassured, still try to proceed with getting further testing, maybe PCR," explained Dr. Paul Sax, infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women's. "But if you are just kind of doing the screening before you go to a friend's house for a dinner party, or get together with a group of people, by all means use the rapid test."

That is the use most recommended by doctors: just for anyone who is not sick ahead of a social gathering, to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19. Of course, experts also say the testing option is a second safety layer – the first being to have everyone you're gathering with vaccinated and boosted.
There is one concern regarding the rising popularity of at-home testing: state data. With an at home test, people aren't required to report when they are COVID-19 positive, so state infection data may be incomplete.

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