About COVID-19 Home Tests
What to Know About Tests that Give Results at Home
Some COVID-19 tests can be done entirely at home and do not have to go to a lab for processing. This is a way for people to test themselves quickly for COVID-19 without going to a testing site or medical provider. People who get a positive test result can take action right away, such as staying at home and away from other household members as much as possible. However, for a test result to be correct, you must follow test instructions EXACTLY as written.
This information can help you decide if taking an at-home COVID-19 test is the right choice for you and if so, to help prepare you to test yourself correctly. This includes information about tests that involve collecting a sample (e.g., nasal swab), running the test, and reading the results, all in your home. Tests that involve sending a sample (e.g., saliva, nasal swab) in the mail to a lab for processing are not covered here.
COVID-19 tests currently approved for at-home use:
Molecular tests look at a sample taken from inside your nose or throat, or of your saliva (spit), to see if it has the genetic material of the virus that causes COVID-19. One molecular test, called Lucira, can be completed entirely at home without being sent to a lab.
- All other at-home molecular tests require mailing a saliva or nasal sample to a lab and getting results back in 24 to 72 hours. If you order a test through Minnesota's COVID-19 Vault Saliva Testing at Home program, you will receive a saliva test you will take at home and mail to a lab for processing.
- Antigen tests look at a sample taken from inside your nose or throat to see if you have tiny bits of the virus that causes COVID-19. Antigen tests can be run entirely at home without being sent to a lab.
A person who tests positive by either of these tests is infected with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Infected people can pass the virus to other people, even if they do not feel sick or have symptoms of a respiratory tract infection.
The following information focuses on COVID-19 tests that are done entirely at home and are not sent to a lab.
Some at-home COVID-19 tests are available from your health care provider and some can be bought over the counter, without a prescription.
Molecular tests done in a laboratory are very reliable. Test manufacturers report that at-home molecular tests are also reliable; however, there is little data available at this point to confirm how well they work. We will learn more about test performance as they become more widely used.
Antigen tests are not as accurate as molecular tests. For people who have COVID-19 with symptoms, antigen tests are around 80% accurate. This means that some people have a negative test result even though they have an active infection. Antigen tests are less than 80% accurate for people who do not have symptoms. False-positive test results, or a result that says you have COVID-19 but you really do not, are rare.
It is best to stay home until your symptoms get better (i.e., until at least 24 hours with no fever and other symptoms are getting better). Because at-home antigen tests can be falsely negative, if you continue to be ill or your illness worsens, consider getting a COVID-19 test from your health care provider or at a public testing site.
No. Everyone moving around in the community during the pandemic should take the recommended precautions, including wearing a mask, staying 6 feet or more away from those who do not live in your household, and practicing hand hygiene. These actions protect you and others.
Because antigen tests are not accurate enough to detect every person who has an active infection, people who test negative may still have an active infection. We do not yet have enough data on at-home molecular tests to know how often this happens with these tests. For this reason, you still must practice recommended precautions to protect others and yourself.
First, follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to report a positive test result. Stay home, and tell others that you tested positive for COVID-19 if they spent at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of you, starting either two days before you got symptoms, or two days before you took the test if you do not have symptoms. Contact your doctor or other health care provider, too, especially if you are older or have a medical condition. Your doctor may want to watch your illness, and you may be able to get an outpatient treatment for COVID-19. In any event, if you have questions or if your symptoms get worse, contact your health care provider.
Stopping this pandemic depends on knowing where cases of COVID-19 are occurring. The results of COVID-19 testing are usually reported to public health organizations by the laboratories doing these tests. When you take a COVID-19 test at home, you are the laboratory. It is up to you to make sure that public health organizations in your local area, county, and state know about your positive test result, so that we can continue to monitor virus transmission in Minnesota communities. Thank you for reporting.
Not everyone in a household will get COVID-19, and not everyone will get it at the same time. Sometimes antigen tests will not detect infection even when it is there. This is why it is important for people who test positive to stay away from others in their household (isolate), if possible.
If at least one member of a household tests positive, other household members should stay home for 14 days after their last close contact with the household member who tested positive (quarantine).