Shoppers beware: Not all at-home COVID tests are made equal

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Posted at 7:27 PM, Feb 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 07:18:49-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Rapid antigen tests are on store shelves across the country, but doctors warn that not all tests are made equal.

You could say we’ve come a long way in this pandemic to where COVID tests are all around us. You can drive-thru, walk up, or never even leave your home and simply order free tests online.

Now for about $24.99, local gas stations are selling COVID tests of their own. Of course, the question now is, can they be trusted?

NewsChannel 5 found enough to run two tests, complete with instructions. Everything seemed official enough Dr. Aaron Milstone of Williamson County Medical Center said it all comes down to the fine print.

“If you buy local and you don’t use an FDA-approved test kit, you run the risk of something that may or may not be all that accurate,” Milstone said.

What NewsChannel 5 had was not FDA-approved. It was only FDA-authorized to be sold under the Emergency Use Authorization. Also important when it comes to accuracy are the expiration date and the little note with suggestions on storing temperature.

NewsChannel 5's test expires in March 2022, according to the label. Dr. Milstone said by then the antigen material used for testing is likely no longer active, which would make the test worthless.

Just below the expiration date is where NewsChannel 5 found instructions that said the package should be stored between 34-86° Fahrenheit.

Temps have fallen below freezing a few times these past weeks, so any test ordered to a home could already have been compromised by the cold.

“You can imagine that if a test kit goes through the mail through very cold conditions, that may affect the validity of the test kit,” Milstone said.

Just remember that these tests are about speed and convenience. They’re most accurate when you already have symptoms, while PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests at testing centers and pharmacies are still considered the most reliable.

“I certainly am a big believer in-home testing, but they have to be done right. They have to be done correctly. They have to be done in a controlled environment and most importantly they have to be an FDA-approved test kit,” Milstone said.

The test NewsChannel 5 purchased notes that it's best to take the second test at least 24 hours after the first for the most accurate results.

Thankfully many at-home COVID tests will offer mobile apps or a link to step-by-step instructions on how to effectively test yourself. For a more comprehensive understanding of how your free COVID test stacks up against the rest, you read more details at this link.

As for the future, Dr. Milstone predicts more advances in terms of testing. He said while we’ve come so far since the beginning of the pandemic, in so many ways this may just be the beginning.

“Instead of having to put the swab up the nose, there’s going to be a lot of push for throat testing. A lot of push for saliva testing. So we’re really at just the beginning,” Milstone said.