At-home COVID-19 tests are widely available. Credit: Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

In November of 2020, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for COVID-19 at home self-testing. In a press release issued shortly after the emergency authorization was announced, FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. stated that “This new testing option is an important diagnostic advancement to address the pandemic and reduce the public burden of disease transmission.” At-home COVID-19 tests have transformed the information individuals can access about their COVID-19 status. 

Once an individual utilizes an at-home COVID test, what else should they do? There is a prevailing COVID myth that once someone tests positive using an at-home test there’s nothing more they can or should do. This misinformation has been debunked by the FDA and others. According to the FDA, “[a]n important component to successful at-home testing is the ability to efficiently track and monitor results…prescribing healthcare providers are required to report all test results they receive from individuals who use the test to their relevant public health authorities in accordance with local, state and federal requirements.” 

Dr. Torian Easterling, first deputy commissioner and chief equity officer at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (NYCDOHMH), in an interview with the AmNews said, “…if I test positive, I now have the information immediately to understand what I need to do. A year ago someone had to get a PCR test, they had to go to a mobile van, their clinic, then they had to wait  24 hours…or even longer  because of the lab capacity.

“If you take an at-home test and it is positive you should go ahead and isolate yourself, and quarantine others who may be exposed, you let folks know and you should also take off from…work,” he added.

The CDC concurs with Dr. Easterling. According to the CDC, steps to take if you test positive for COVID include:

  • Staying at home except to get medical care
  • Separating yourself from other people
  • Monitoring your symptoms
  • Wearing a well-fitting mask if you have to be around other people or pets
  • Covering your coughs and sneezes
  • Avoiding sharing personal household items
  • Cleaning surfaces in your home regularly
  • Taking steps to improve ventilation in your home

There are several ways that information can be properly tracked and dealt with once someone has tested positive for COVID-19 using an at-home test:

One way is contacting your healthcare provider directly. This can allow your physician to contact the health department directly. Your healthcare provider will need to know the type of test you took, when you took the test, when you began to experience symptoms, and whether you have been vaccinated. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you get a PCR test, give you advice regarding contact with others, and suggestions for medication to alleviate COVID-19 symptoms.  

A second way is to contact the Department of Health directly with results. This can be more challenging for individuals, however. The specific New York City Department of Health website regarding at-home testing and next steps can be found at  https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-testing.page

Finally, at-home COVID-19 tests have instructional videos with details on how to properly administer the tests and how to proceed if you test positive for COVID-19. 

Despite the widespread availability of at-home tests, a recent report from the CDC,  found continuing disparities among communities of color as it relates to access and use of at-home tests. 

“This report found demographic differences in at-home test use. At-home test use was highest among persons who identified as white, adults aged 30–39 years, those with annual household incomes >$150,000, those with postgraduate degrees, and New England division residents. Observed differences might reflect the price point, marketing, education, or disparities in availability and accessibility of at-home tests. Equitable access to COVID-19 testing is important to reduce disease spread.”

As Dr. Easterling stated, the key to the utility of at-home COVID tests is giving information to individuals to act in a timely, responsible  manner: “so it’s really about making sure that we can get information out as quickly as possible, not just about where you can get vaccinated, but how do we ensure that individuals who may be exposed get that information immediately and then they are able to make a good decision for themselves.”

If you wish to obtain an at-home test, you can go to one of the city-wide pick-up sites or visit https://www.covid.gov/tests and order a test by mail. For overall information regarding testing, please go to https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-testing.page. These and other resources can also be accessed on the AmNews COVID-19 page: https://amsterdamnews.com/covid/

Correction: In the third paragraph of this story Dr. Torian Easterling’s last name was misspelled and has been corrected.

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