At-home COVID testing kits in high demand


For the Gazette

Published: 08-10-2021 8:52 PM

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Massachusetts, at-home testing kits are becoming a hot commodity. The kits are in such high demand that Amherst Pharmacy hasn’t been able to get any onto its shelves.

“I’ve tried ordering through four different wholesalers,” said John Nikitas, a physician and the owner of Amherst Pharmacy. “It doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.”

Chain pharmacies have noticed the increased demand for the tests, also.

“COVID-19 home test kits are the top-selling item in our stores,” said Tara Burke, a CVS spokeswoman. CVS sells them for around $20 to $35, depending on the brand.

The tests allow you to swab your own nose and get results as soon as 15 minutes after placing the sample into a testing card. The card develops a second line to indicate a positive result, similar to a pregnancy test.

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While demand is high for the take-home tests, Nikitas thinks that going to a testing facility is the safer option, because taking a sample yourself without professional supervision leaves more room for error.

“The sample collection step is very important,” he said. “If you’re not doing a good job taking the sample, then it may come out negative, but you’re really positive.”

While the self-application could lead to errors, the tests are virtually the same as the rapid kits that most testing facilities use, according to Nikitas.

“Theoretically, it works the same,” he said.

Despite possible user error, Abbott’s BinaxNOW antigen self-test, one of the most widely sold take-home testing kits, has an 84.6% positive agreement and 98.5% negative agreement in people within seven days of the onset of symptoms, “regardless of how much virus people have in their body,” according to Aly Morici, an Abbott spokeswoman.

That means a positive result is 84.6% accurate and a negative result has 98.5% accuracy.

The take-home test can also be more costly than going to a testing facility. At CVS, testing is covered in full by most insurance companies or paid for by the federal program for the uninsured, according to the Minute Clinic website. UMass’ testing facility, the Public Health Promotion Center, also offers free tests to Massachusetts residents.

However, a take-home kit might be the fastest and simplest option available to Valley residents. UMass’ testing facility takes 24 to 36 hours to provide a result, and CVS’s Molecular Lab Tests also take two to three days. Most take-home kits provide results within minutes.

Also, CVS tests, both rapid and PCR (lab tests), are available only to those who qualify, depending on a variety of factors, including exposure to the virus and whether an individual is showing symptoms.

Most over-the-counter take-home tests are rapid antigen tests, which are less accurate than PCR tests, but are meant to provide a portable and fast result without requiring lab equipment. PCR tests must be sent to a lab, slowing down the results’ turnaround time.

Lucira Health makes a take-home rapid molecular test, which is more reliable than the rapid antigen test, boasting a “98% accuracy compared to one of the best known high sensitivity lab PCR tests” (excluding tests with very low levels of virus), on its website. The test provides results in 30 minutes or less, but is currently sold out online.

Many people are opting for the easier, faster tests. BinaxNow kits are in high demand, which Morici attributes to rising cases.

“We’re seeing some increased demand in certain areas of the country as case rates rise, and as testing needs and guidance changes,” she said. “We’re meeting that demand and are working with our retail partners to keep store shelves stocked.”