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Kristin Travis, right, a community outreach doula, picks up home COVID-19 test kits Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, from Stacey Silver, left, a program administrator at Open Arms Perinatal Services before going out to visit some of her clients in Seattle. The kits were provided by the King County Public Health Dept. and distributed by community-based organizations as a way of providing more accessible testing and faster results. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
OHSU Health
Published: 18 February 2022

If you think you might have COVID, you want to know right away. Testing helps us prevent spreading the virus to others. At-home tests make it easy to get results in a few minutes, but are they reliable? We answer your top 6 questions about at-home tests.

1. Are at-home tests accurate?

PCR lab tests are the most accurate, but you need to leave your house and it may take 1–2 days to get your results. At-home antigen tests are less sensitive, so they are more likely to detect the virus when you have symptoms. If you test positive, you can be sure you have COVID. If you test negative, you might still have COVID so you should test again in 2 days.

Learn how to use a self-test here.

2. When should I take an at-home test?

You should think about taking a self-test in any of these cases:

You have COVID-19 symptoms

You may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19

Before you plan to gather indoors with others who are at risk (unvaccinated children, older adults, etc.)

For the most accurate results, test 5 days after exposure or within the first 2–3 days after your first symptoms.

See who should be tested here.

3. How do I get free at-home tests?

If you haven’t already, you can still order 4 free at-home tests from COVIDTests.gov. If you have health insurance, most health plans must cover the cost of up to 8 at-home tests a month per covered person. Check with your health plan to find out how.

4. What if I have Medicare or Medicaid?

Medicare did NOT start paying for at-home COVID tests when private insurers started covering them. They plan to start covering them in early spring, so check here for updates. In the meantime, you can pick up free at-home tests from community health centers. It is best to call first to see if they have them. Also, some Medicare Advantage plans do pay for at-home tests, so check to see if yours does.Medicaid does cover the cost of at-home COVID tests. Check with your state’s Medicaid program for details. Oregon’s Medicaid program — the Oregon Health Plan (OHP) — will cover up to 4 at-home tests a month.

Learn how OHP members can get free home tests here.

5. Should I stock up on tests?

While it is good to always have a few test kits ready for when you need them, we don’t recommend that you stockpile dozens of them. It can cause a supply shortage. Plus, test kits do expire over time and you don’t want to be stuck with a bunch of old kits you can’t use. It is best to have a few on hand, then replace them each time they are used.

6. What do I do if I test positive?

If your at-home test is positive, you should stay home isolate and away from others. Tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed, and get emergency care if you have any of these emergency warning signs.

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

This list does not include all possible symptoms. Check the CDC website for updates.

You can report your test result to the Oregon Health Authority by filling out their survey or calling 866‑917‑8881.

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