Frequently Asked Questions about Testing

Rapid at-home tests are COVID-19 antigen tests that are self-administered with a testing kit. When used correctly, at-home tests are highly reliable and a critical tool in controlling the spread of the virus because of their easy access and fast results.

At-home tests are most effective when there are high amounts of the virus present, such as when you are symptomatic. For this reason, they are less able to detect COVID-19 during the earliest phase of the illness when low amounts of the virus are present. This is why at-home tests sometimes require repeat or serial testing (re-testing in 24-48-hour intervals). Repeat testing reduces the chances of getting a false negative result. If you are infected with COVID-19 but tested negative early in the course of your illness, you may test positive later on when virus levels increase. Multiple negative at-home tests increase the confidence that you are not infected.

Updated November 17, 2022 

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, the CDC recommends taking an at-home test immediately. If you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should test at least five days after exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms. If your first rapid at-home test is negative, test again after 24-48 hours.

You can also take an at-home test as a precautionary measure before attending an indoor gathering. Consider testing immediately before attending an indoor event or gathering, especially if you are at risk of severe disease or if you will be around others who are at high risk, such as immunocompromised people or older adults.

Updated November 17, 2022 

Rapid at-home test instructions vary according to the manufacturer, but most testing kits include a collection swab, dropper bottle, and a test card. To ensure test accuracy, carefully read the instructions and closely follow the manufacturer’s directions when collecting the sample, performing the test, and timing the test result. 

For instructional videos on how to complete a rapid at-home test by manufacturer, visit the CDC’s webpage on self-testing videos.

Updated November 17, 2022 

How many times you take an at-home test depends on your result. Positive results from an at-home test are considered highly reliable because these tests are very effective at detecting high amounts of the virus. If you receive a negative test result you should test again 24-48 hours after your initial test–especially if you are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. Multiple negative at-home tests increase the confidence that you are not infected.

What to do if you have a positive result on an at-home test:

  • If your at-home test result is positive, this means the virus was detected and you have an infection. Follow the latest CDC guidance on quarantine and isolation. If you are at an increased risk for severe illness or have worsening symptoms over time, you should consult a health care provider.

What to do if you have a negative result on an at-home test:

  • If your at-home test result is negative, this means that the virus was not detected, but this doesn’t rule out an infection. You should test again 24-48 hours after your first at-home test especially if you are continuing to experience symptoms.

If you continue to receive negative at-home results, but have symptoms or are otherwise concerned that you could have COVID-19, consider getting a PCR test, which is the most accurate COVID-19 test available. Pharmacies, health centers, diagnostic labs, and health departments offer PCR testing. Check where such testing is available in your community.

Updated November 17, 2022 

COVID-19 tests are often administered at clinics, pharmacies, health centers, and other community testing sites. To find testing options near you, including free testing options, search on the U.S. Health and Human Services testing site web page or visit your local health department’s website. 

Rapid at-home tests are also available at many pharmacies, retailers, community sites, and online. Tests typically cost about $10-12 for an individual test without insurance. As of January 15, 2022, these tests are covered by health insurance, meaning that most people with health plans will be able to get up to eight tests per month for free by using their insurance coverage or can get reimbursed for purchasing tests by submitting a claim to their insurer. If you don’t have health insurance, you may be able to access free at-home tests from local community sites. 

As of December 15, 2022, the U.S. government relaunched its free delivery program for at-home COVID-19 tests in response to the recent winter surge of COVID-19 cases. Every U.S. household is eligible to order four at-home COVID-19 tests and orders can be placed here

If you plan on using a rapid at-home test, it is advised to have several tests readily available so that you can test more than once. Since test quantities vary by manufacturer, check how many are included in a kit to ensure you have enough tests on hand. For more information on FDA-authorized COVID-19 at-home tests, expiration dates, and age limits, click here.

Updated December 15, 2022 

There are a few options for viral COVID-19 tests. The main two types of tests are PCR tests and rapid antigen tests:

PCR Test (NAAT is an alternative name)

  • Most accurate test currently available 
  • Typically administered by health providers at a clinic or pharmacy and analyzed in a laboratory
  • Results in typically in 24-72 hours

Rapid Antigen Test

  • Less accurate than PCR tests
  • Results in as little as 15 minutes when taken at home
  • Can be self-administered with an at-home testing kit, or taken at a testing site

There’s another kind of test known as an antibody test, which can help indicate whether you have had COVID-19 in the past. Antibody tests are used by scientists to better understand the virus, but they are not used to determine whether you currently have an infection.

Added January 20, 2022 

Messaging Resources about Testing

Communications Tool: Building Bridges

Toolkit: COVID-19 Testing

Misinformation Alerts about Testing

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