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How Reliable Are At-Home COVID Tests? Are They Covered By Insurance?

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Last-minute gifts aren't the only items flying off shelves. Holiday travelers are grabbing rapid COVID-19 tests before visiting loved ones.

We wanted to know: How reliable are those tests? And are they covered by insurance?

The first step in taking a rapid antigen test is trying to find one, which can be tough with the high demand right now. WCCO called Setzer Pharmacy around noon Monday and learned it had three tests in stock. They were sold out within an hour.

We ventured across town to Lloyd Pharmacy. It didn't take us long to find a rapid test at that location. It cost $15. A few minutes after that, Setzer was restocked as well, just in time for customer Pat Coleman. He's hosting a Christmas gathering on Tuesday and bought three tests.

"We did the same thing for Thanksgiving, we had the family over and I asked them to test before they came," he said, adding that everyone attending the party is vaccinated. "We feel like we've done everything so far, our due diligence. But with Omicron (variant) we just don't want to get even a little bit of sick."

How reliable are the rapid tests? We asked Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director for the Minnesota Department of Health.

"We know that [rapid] antigen tests are not as sensitive as the PCR test, but of course they give us the benefit of having rapid results," Ehresmann said.

The PCR tests are the saliva method offered at MDH sites across the state, which produce a more accurate result compared to the rapid antigen tests.

At Home COVID-19 Test
(credit: CBS)

"We're seeing that with Omicron, at least early in the infectious period, we may see more false negatives [with rapid tests]," said Ehresmann.

If possible, taking two rapid tests a few days apart is best, said Ehresmann, especially if you've had a possible COVID exposure.

"The important thing is that you're testing as close to the gathering as possible," she said.

Taking the test is relatively easy, however the long list of very-specific directions can appear intimidating, said Coleman.

Will insurance cover rapids tests? Not if you purchase them at pharmacies. Insurance will cover rapid tests at 13 of state's 21 community testing sites, six of which are in the metro area.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced a plan to have private insurers reimburse people for buying rapid tests to take a home, but when that starts is unclear.

"Three tests, $50, that's a lot of money," said Coleman. "I feel sorry for people who don't have that kind of money."

If you're symptomatic but test negative for COVID-19, the health department still advises you to stay home. That's because you might have the flu or another sickness going around.

Click here to find a community testing site that offers rapid antigen tests.


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