You have probably heard that testing for COVID-19 is still not readily available in most places. Now, the private market is stepping in to fill the need, with a handful of businesses announcing new test-at-home offerings. Most of these offerings are PCR tests of swabs from the nose and mouth. PCR is a chemical process that can amplify segments of DNA. When applied to COVID-19, a positive test indicates the presence of active virus in the nose or mouth sample. Another type of test is a blood test looking for antibodies against COVID-19. This test may not be helpful while you are sick, as it can take several weeks to develop antibodies to a new infection. However, this type of test will play an important role in identifying people who have already been exposed/infected by COVID-19.
Tests are currently being processed at the CDC, public health departments, hospitals, and some commercial labs. Now, several companies have announced that they will begin shipping these tests to consumers directly. This may not be as good as it sounds — collecting a proper sample from the nose or mouth takes training, and shipping delays of the specimen back to the lab could impact the quality of the sample. There could be a high false negative rate, leading people who are actually infected to believe they are not, potentially contributing to the crisis. In fact the FDA has warned that some of the at-home tests currently being marketed may be “unauthorized.” While it is exciting that new options are coming available, we still recommend that you be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible if you have symptoms. A doctor can help decide whether you need testing and can provide a referral for proper testing if you do.