As new cases spike with the arrival of the Omicron COVID-19 variant and people plan for holiday gatherings and travel, the use of over-the-counter rapid home testing is gaining traction. To help stem the spread of COVID over the holiday season, many regions in the United States are pushing for the distribution of free at-home rapid COVID-19 test kits. In Canada, several provinces are also distributing no-cost at-home tests in liquor stores, libraries, and gas stations.
Although the US Food and Drug Administration has approved a number of OTC COVID-19 rapid tests and plans to double rapid at-home testing capacity by year’s end, the FDA also reminds patients that all tests can experience false-negative and false-positive results. People who test positive should self-isolate for 10 days and seek medical care. Those who test negative but have COVID-like symptoms should also follow up with their healthcare provider. Repeating the test within a few days (more than 24 hours) of a negative test can help confirm that you are not infected. Anyone who tests positive should also inform any close contacts.
Many of the approved OTC antigen tests are designed to be used serially, testing the same individual several times over a few days for increased accuracy. Self-tests along with other protective measures including vaccination, masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene can help reduce the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests using a self-test before gathering with people who are not in your household. Rapid COVID-19 self-tests can be used regardless of vaccination status and if you have symptoms of infection or not. Because on-site testing dates may be more difficult to schedule in the days leading up to the holiday break, keeping a few at-home tests on hand may be more convenient.
Self-tests are currently designed to detect active current infection. OTC COVID-19 tests presently available do not detect antibodies to the virus. For a list of OTC SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests approved by the FDA, follow this link. Visit the Government of Canada website to access an updated list of authorized testing devices.
If you are traveling over the holidays, be sure to check with your destination’s health department for local requirements for entry, testing, vaccination and isolation plans as well as the regulations for returning home.