As the pandemic closes out 2020 with rising cases around the US and more and more home COVID-19 tests begin to come on the market, it was almost inevitable that everyone’s favorite bulk retailer would get in on the action. That’s right, you can get a COVID-19 at-home test at Costco. (It’s FSA eligible, too!)
A RT-PCR test, authorized in May (updated in October) by the FDA for Emergency Use, the test available at Costco from telemedicine company AZOVA, the test allows you to collect your own samples and get results within 24-72 hours from their lab (through their HIPAA-secure app). They’re available in both a standard kit and one (for $10) more that includes video observation.
Per the FDA: “A diagnostic test can show if you have an active coronavirus infection and should take steps to quarantine or isolate yourself from others. Currently there are two types of diagnostic tests which detect the virus — molecular tests, such as RT-PCR tests, that detect the virus’s genetic material, and antigen tests that detect specific proteins on the surface of the virus.”
PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are used to detect if there is an active infection present in the nose, throat or other areas (rather than other tests that look at how your body’s immune system is responding). This allows for the test to be more sensitive and to see who is infected early on (prior to symptoms manifesting and, ideally, before too many other individuals can be infected) and gives those individuals a bit more time to connect with the people they’ve been in close contact with to urge them to get tested and quarantine.
While the rise of at-home tests does a great deal for accessibility, it should also be noted that experts are encouraging caution and emphasize that these tests cannot be done entirely at-home and don’t guarantee you or your loved ones are COVID-19 free.
As the FDA states “Home collection raises several issues of importance, including whether the lay user can safely and properly collect the specimen, whether the components of the specimen transport media are safe for use in the home environment (since some may be toxic), proper shipment, and adequate stability of the specimen given the time lapse between collection and testing and the potential impact of shipping conditions (such as, if the specimen sits in a hot truck). A healthcare provider watching the collection by way of telemedicine may address the issue of proper specimen collection (if the self-collection method does not raise safety concerns) but it does not address the other issues, and specimen stability and shipping conditions are still of concern.”
PCR tests can see some substantial false negatives — which means it’s more useful for definitely confirming there is an infection than definitively giving someone an all-clear. (The odds of a false-negative or for some kind of errors to occur in the at-home collection of samples are also upped when non-professional collection is in the mix.) Ultimately, experts say that testing alone doesn’t make up for the other tried and true precautions (wearing a mask and staying home/social distancing!) — noting that the White House’s outbreak this fall was at least in-part due to their testing strategy, as NPR reported.
“The COVID-19 outbreak at the White House is an unfortunate demonstration that routine testing is not a substitute for wearing masks and maintaining physical distance,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security told NPR. “No test is 100% accurate, and for this reason someone who tests negative is not guaranteed to be free of infection. That means, even when people are regularly tested, it important to use multiple approaches to reduce the likelihood of transmission. Maintaining distance from others, wearing a mask and choosing to stay in well-ventilated spaces are all important safety measures that must also be used.”
Before you go, check out our favorite face masks to keep kids safe in the pandemic: