Welcome to Travel Well with Allan Wright!
In this week’s episode, Allan discusses and reviews the different options for at-home COVID testing kits.
At-home testing could be useful to people, especially as countries and airlines start to require COVID testing prior to travel. Please note, the blog post below has been corrected to note that the at-home testing (not collection) kits are actually antigen (rapid) and not PCR tests, which makes them not useful for travelers.
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Can’t watch the video right now? Here’s the video transcript of Review of At-Home COVID Test Kits:
Hi, this is Allan Wright. Welcome to the Travel Well with Allan video update. Today I’d like to talk to you about at-home COVID testing which can be very useful for those of you required to get an at-home or get a COVID test if you’re going to use it for travel. For example, countries, states, and airlines are now requiring COVID tests.
Before you go and get one, I want to just be clear about definitions here. There are two FDA-approved products. One is an at-home COVID collection kit in which you collect the sample and you send it back via the mail to a laboratory.
The second one is an actual at-home COVID test where you do the same process but you can get the results right there at home within 15 minutes, which is amazing! This process, the whole thing, either one, has great benefits.
First of all, you don’t have to go anywhere. You can do it right from your home and second of all, you can schedule it easily for any time you want without having to rely on availability in the local community. There are a couple negatives too. One is you have to plan for shipping time. If you’re using the collection kit and have to ship it back. And the second is the actual reliability accuracy is dependent on your ability to do the sample taking well. So you have to pay attention to that.
There are many companies that have been approved by the FDA for the collection kits. We’ve only found two that have been approved for the actual at-home tests and we have a sample chart here with five of these companies.
The first three are all collection and the last two are tests. Most of these are PCR which is the more accurate version. Interestingly for the collection kits, the price is right around $110 to $120. The key thing to pay attention to is the prerequisite some of these like the first one, Let’s Get Checked have a prerequisite of exposure in the community or or symptoms but if you’re doing this for travel you probably don’t have symptoms. But cases in the local community count as exposure so that is no problem.
The second one is a little stricter you must have symptoms or have a risk factor or be working in a setting with exposure so if you’re at home working you really don’t qualify. If you’re working in an office you do and the third one apparently has no restrictions whatsoever and it is the saliva test which because it’s PCR is still accurate.
Those last two Abbott Labs and Ellume are at-home COVID tests which are much better. You don’t have to ship anything back and then you get the results within 15 minutes. The first one from Abbott is available now but you have to be 18 plus and you have to have at least one symptom. The second one from Ellume appears to have no restrictions and is available to anybody but it’s not yet available so we’re not entirely sure on that. However, the problem with these is they are rapid (antigen) not PCR tests.
I did this to test it out so that I could give you a more accurate review. I ordered the Pixel by Lab Corp. I had one symptom and so I was able to get it and thankfully tested negative. I found the process easy and great really, and I would highly recommend this for travelers if you need to get a COVID test and we are encouraging our travelers to use this as well.
I do have a few recommendations however to make the process as best possible. One is – Order the test well in advance it doesn’t matter if it sits with you for four days or five days so order it before you actually need it just to make sure you get it. Second of all make sure for the collection kits that you know how to get it back. If it’s Fedex make sure you find where you can drop that fedex as and it will be on the way as quickly as possible. I took the test in the morning, dropped it off at a Fedex drop box of the local Staples and found out their pickup wasn’t till 3 p.m so I wasted the whole day. Had I found a better place to do this I could have had this process done faster. Once I did get it to the lab it only took 15 hours. They do say it can take 24 to 72 hours so you have to time your test appropriately so that you’re doing it when you need to get the results. Finally, make sure you’re diligent in that swabbing because that is important that you follow their directions so that the test is as accurate as possible.
In summary, I think this is a great process. The at-home collection is great itself. At-home tests can be useful as well, although they are less accurate.
Update from 1/30/21: I received a statement from my insurance company saying they would allow $117.55 of the $125 cost of the test but my (very basic) insurance plan paid 100%.
Update from 2/3/21: I made a mistake. The at-home testing kits are rapid (antigen), not PCR tests. That makes them essentially non-useful for travel. This post has been updated to reflect that.