Traveling this holiday season? Read NVFP’s guide to at-home COVID-19 tests

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Are you planning on traveling or being in large groups this holiday season? For many, the holidays are a great time to reflect on the year, spend time with loved ones, and prepare for the year to come. Unfortunately, with the continuous rise in COVID-19 cases, as well as the recent discovery of the Omicron variant, traveling or being in large groups still feels daunting.

Getting the vaccine, wearing a mask, and social distancing are essential to fighting off the COVID-19 virus. But social distancing and wearing a mask are often-times hard to maintain while attending large family and/or group gatherings. That is where COVID-19 testing comes in; rather than treating testing as a secondary option, getting tested is a great way to ensure that you and those around you are not infected.

By now, you may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Okay, but I don’t have a few days to find out the results… I need to know NOW!” Luckily for you, at-home COVID-19 rapid antigen tests are becoming increasingly more available and affordable.

What types of COVID-19 tests are available?

Before discussing at-home COVID-19 tests, it’s important to differentiate between the different types of tests available. Typically speaking, COVID-19 tests administered at your local doctors office or testing center are PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. PCR tests detect ANY presence of the COVID-19 virus, even after you’re no longer infected. Simply put, PCR tests check to see if you have any amount of the virus in your body. While PCR tests are the most accurate COVID-19 tests available, they take longer to process, due to the specialized equipment needed to interpret the results.

Conversely, antigen tests detect small pieces of protein on the surface of the virus, and users typically see results in as little as 15 minutes. While the antigen test is much faster than the PCR test, the antigen test only provides a snapshot of your COVID-19 status at the time of the test. That is why it is common to confirm an antigen test with a PCR test, if available. Also, because antigen tests are more likely to give false negative results (especially if you don’t have symptoms), experts generally recommend repeating an antigen test in 2-3 days to confirm a negative result, especially if you’ve had a potential COVID-19 exposure. Both tests require a nasal swab or saliva sample in most cases for accurate results.

Where can I get an at-home test?

If you are feeling symptoms of COVID-19, or want to take a PCR COVID-19 test, be sure to contact your doctor immediately. But, for at-home COVID-19 tests, brands such as QuickVue, Ellume, BinaxNOW, and other reputable brands are available to purchase at your local CVS, Walgreens, or other pharmacies in your area. Be sure to contact your local pharmacy ahead of time to ensure availability. While prices vary, many tests come in packs of two for around $25 a pack.

When should I take the test?

Prior to the test, it is imperative that you read the instructions on the back of the box. Some tests require different samples or processes, so reading the instructions will give you the most accurate test results. Additionally, we recommend that you take the at-home COVID-19 test prior to being in a large group (especially if you traveled), and if you will be spending time with elderly or immunocompromised people, or children too young to be vaccinated (or not completely vaccinated). You may even consider taking serial tests if you are staying with at risk family members or friends for an extended period. If you have limited availability of COVID-19 tests in your area and need to spread them out, save them for events where elderly or immunocompromised people will be in attendance.

As more information becomes available, NVFP will continue to be a resource for your COVID-19 questions and needs. In the meantime, we recommend that you get vaccinated, consider getting tested if you are going to be in a big group or are feeling symptomatic, and self-isolate if symptoms worsen. The holiday season is an exciting time – but it is important that we still look-out for each other and treat COVID-19 with the respect it still deserves.

Enjoy the holiday season, be safe, and take care of each other!

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