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What you should know about at-home COVID-19 tests

Self tests can produce results in as little as 15 minutes, but might not be as accurate as tests administered at community sites and clinics.

SEATTLE — With long lines at some community COVID-19 testing sites, many patients are turning to at-home tests.

Here’s what you should know about the two types of self-tests.

Antigen tests

If you visit your local pharmacy and ask for an at-home COVID-19 test, they’re likely to hand you an antigen test, which produces results in as little as 15 minutes.

KING 5 found an Abbott BinaxNOW test at Walgreens for $26. It contains two tests and does not require a prescription.

Some other pharmacies in Seattle were out of stock, Wednesday.

Of the two types of at-home tests, antigen tests produce faster results, but on rare occasions, patients can get a negative result, even if they have COVID-19.

“I would encourage people not to make decisions off of a negative test if they're symptomatic and they test negative by antigen tests,” said Dr. Patrick Mathias, vice chair of clinical operations for the Department of Lab Medicine and Pathology at the University of Washington.

The tests work best when a patient is showing symptoms and can be inaccurate if someone feels fine and just wants a test so they can travel, he said.

Molecular (PCR) tests

These are the most accurate tests available, but they are more costly and might be difficult to find at retail pharmacies.

Results from a molecular (PCR) test can take longer and patients may be required to mail test samples to a lab.

Molecular tests look for genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 and are the same tests used at most community drive-through testing sites.

“They definitely are more sensitive,” said Mathias.

Report you results

The Washington Department of Health (DOH) is urging anyone who takes an at-home test to report their results to the state so they can get a more accurate picture of how widespread COVID-19 is and where it’s most prevalent.

The DOH is asking patients to call the state COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-525-0127 to report results.

The phone line is open Monday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Tuesday to Sunday (and observed holidays) from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hotline staff can answer patients’ questions and direct them to resources to help them recover, the DOH said.

“Those activities that happen on the back end are really important for helping to contain the spread of the virus and limit the number of people who get infected,” Mathias said.

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