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At-Home COVID Tests Promise Fast Results Ahead Of Holiday Gatherings, But Are They Accurate? CBS2 Investigates

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Just in time for Thanksgiving gatherings, several kinds of rapid COVID tests you can take home are hitting the market.

Some give results within minutes, and soon they will be able to test for both COVID and the flu. Looking to other countries, this could be the beginning of a new way of life.

But as CBS2's Lisa Rozner reports, the accuracy and cost are in question.

You'll find at home, over the counter COVID-19 tests on the shelves of pharmacies in New York City.

Antigen self tests retail at the same price and come with two tests per box -- each one meant to be taken two to three days apart. For a few dollars more, another test connected to an app is being sold on Amazon by New Jersey based Becton Dickinson.

They're a lot cheaper than going to the doctor for a rapid test, which can be $50 to $200.

Both have received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

Rozner tried Abbott's Binax, which delivers results in 10 to 15 minutes, and Quidel's QuickVue, which gives an answer in 10 minutes. Both came back negative.

Doctors say with these at home tests, you have to follow every single step precisely, otherwise you will get an invalid result. Manufacturers warn it's also invalid if you check minutes before the timer and even minutes after.

They're quick, but they're also all antigen based, which doctors say is not always accurate, especially for early detection of COVID-19.

"We've seen plenty of people had negative antigen but a positive PCR. So the PCR is still the gold standard," said Dr. Suraj Saggar, chief of infectious disease at Holy Name Medical Center.

The Journal of Infectious Disease says rapid tests can detect over 93% of cases in people carrying high viral loads who can infect others.

"When you are sick, you carry a higher viral load, which is easier for devices to detect. When you're asymptomatic, you don't produce as much of a viral load," Bloom Health Partners Co-Founder Abbas Khan explained.


That's why Bloom, hired to test regularly at movie sets, the Super Bowl and work conferences, is armed with multiple kinds of tests. One of them is a molecular test done with a swab inserted into a cartridge by Cue Health, and it's a little more accurate than an antigen test.

"It's actually quite easy. We put the cartridge in, and my phone is actually detecting that the cartridge is in," Kahn said.

It retails for $200 but is only sold to qualified labs.

Even with a positive from that, Bloom sends patients for a PCR as well. That runs through larger machines.

"It doesn't necessarily tell you how positive or how negative you are. With our instruments, we can really detect at the point of infection," said Laura Schaffer, scientific director of Bloom Health Partners.

That machine can test for flue and COVID, and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending all at home test kits do the same.

This month, Labcorp is releasing an at home collection kit that will test for both. It's similar to its PCR based pixel test, which detects COVID only. It includes a cotton swab that goes into a container that all goes back in a box and sent to a lab.

"Everyone gets COVID-19, but we don't always test for flu that quickly. So the ability to differentiate the two on the spot is really important," Dr. Reynold Panettieri, professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johson Medical School, said.

Testing from the comfort of your home could be a normal part of life in the U.S. pretty soon. The White House has pledged that 200 million rapid at home tests per month will be available starting in December.

Students across England test twice a week and get kids for free at local pharmacies. In Singapore, vending machines dispense them at no cost.

So this holiday season, the power is in you to identify COVID and stop the spread.

Editor's note: This story was first published on Nov. 5.

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