New at-home rapid COVID tests: What you need to know

Will taking an at-home COVID test you bought at your local Walmart soon be part of your morning routine? On Monday, Abbott Laboratoriesin conjunction with BinaxNOW, announced plans to ship rapid self-testing kits to CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, and Walmart locations before the end of the week.

“Even while vaccines are rolling out, COVID-19 testing will remain crucial to helping us all return to normal as we begin to engage in everyday life once again,” the company said in a statement.

“Now, we are making testing directly available for fast results, when and where you need it. You can now access our BinaxNOW test in 3 ways: at your local retailer over the counter self-test, or proctored at-home or from your healthcare professional. This combination will help attack the pandemic on critical fronts – speed, simplicity, affordability, access, and reliability. No more lines, no more wait times, no more barriers, and no more inconveniences. Answers are now in your hands.”

How do these tests work?

The two-test kit received Food and Drug Administration emergency-use authorization for serial screening back in February and will be sold for $23.99 at the locations listed above.

Abbott’s test is recommended for serial screening twice over three days with 36 hours between tests.

Ellum has also developed a rapid-COVID home test that will be sold at CVS stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for $38.99.

Who are these tests for?

The manufacturers intend to administer their tests to employers seeking return-to-work testing. Ellum additionally pledged a $230 million Department of Defense contract to build U.S. manufacturing and deliver 8.5 million tests.

“The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test is an over-the-counter, rapid self-test which detects SARS-CoV-2 antigen. The test is suitable for ages 2+ years and will be available for non-prescription use in the U.S*. It enables individuals, with and without symptoms, to test for COVID-19 infection in 15 minutes, anywhere,” Ellume wrote.

How accurate are these tests?

In a 1,003-subject post-authorization study, Abbott’s 15-minute, point-of-care ID test achieved a sensitivity of 93.3% and specificity of 98.4% for positive coronavirus cases.

According to a recent US clinical study, the Ellume rapid take home test evidenced a 96% accuracy rate among symptomatic individuals. For people without symptoms, the test correctly identified 91% of positive cases.

“The retail tests give consumers another option to get tested even as several states have converted mass testing sites to mass-vaccination sites. Testing nationwide began decreasing last winter as state and local public health departments steered limited resources to vaccination,” explained Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. 

“I still have worries, and the biggest lingering one is the potential cost of these tests,” said Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health associate professor and epidemiologist. “This increases options for some, not all. So we have to keep working to make these tests more widely available.”

The FDA offically authorized the Quidel QuickVue coronavirus test, which can reportedly deliver results as quickly as 10 minutes.

Can my employer require me to take a COVID test?

Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published guidance instructing employers on how to broach testing:

  • During the pandemic, ADA-covered employers may ask their employees if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat.
  • Because the CDC and state/local health authorities have acknowledged community spread of COVID-19, employers may measure employees’ body temperatures as a precaution.
  • Employers may screen job applicants for symptoms of COVID-19 after making a conditional job offer, as long as they do so for all employees in the same types of jobs.
  • Employers may require employees who had COVID-19 to submit a clearance from a physician if they wish to return to work.
  • Employers must keep all information about employee illness as a confidential medical record in compliance with the ADA.