Biden wants to expand access to at-home COVID tests, but how accurate are they?

This is a recurring recording of KOLO 8 News Now at 10.
Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 11:52 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - President Joe Biden announced plans to provide free at-home COVID tests as part of his efforts to mitigate the pandemic ahead of winter.

50 million test kits will be sent to community health centers and rural clinics for those who don’t have insurance or are covered by Medicaid.

“Rural communities continue to be at risk, but they don’t have access to testing,” said Dr. Mark Pandori, director of Nevada State Public Health Laboratory. “This would provide individuals and groups with the intelligence they need to behave in a public health responsible manner.”

However, those with private health insurance will have to first buy the test, which can cost more than $20 for a pack of two, and then submit the receipt to get reimbursed.

“That doesn’t sound like the best path towards doing this,” said Dr. Pandori.

Experts say the complicated nature of getting reimbursed could pose a barrier for some people.

“Particularly for people for whom that amount of money is significant,” said Dr. Pandori.

According to Dr. Pandori, at-home rapid tests are useful but have limitations.

“The devil is always in the details,” said Dr. Pandori. “Different antigen tests have different qualities. These are tests that underperform when it comes to detecting very small amounts of virus. They will miss positive cases where people have very small amounts of virus in their nose or in their throat.”

Although the tests may be problematic when detecting weak-positive patients, if your test comes back positive, it means you have a significant viral load.

“If you are positive on an antigen test and it is a quality test, you’re going to be able to shed that virus very well. So, you are a danger to society at that point,” said Dr. Pandori.

He adds that at-home tests in the market seem pretty good at detecting variants. Dr. Pandori says the success of this plan will depend a lot on the selected test brand.

The Biden administration plans to release more details on the new policy by January 15.

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