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Over-the-Counter COVID-19 Test

Lead Image Courtesy of LabCorp, Andrew Brumagen

The FDA just authorized the first over-the-counter COVID-19 test for home use.

Now, any adult who wants to can order a test kit online, collect their own sample, and mail it to a lab for analysis.

The lab delivers results in an average of 1 to 2 days after receiving the sample. The upfront cost is $119, but most insurance will pay for COVID-19 testing, at least partially.

The test's maker, LabCorp, says it may distribute the kit through retailers, too, making it even easier to access — but there's still room for improvement in at-home COVID-19 testing.

An Over-the-Counter COVID-19 Test

Widespread testing is absolutely key to stopping the pandemic — if everyone with COVID-19 knew they had it, they'd also know to quarantine and the infection rate would drop.

Currently, most testing is done at doctors' offices or clinics, which might be out of reach of some people, such as those living in rural areas.

In-office testing also requires people to leave their homes, which gives the coronavirus the opportunity to spread. Healthcare workers have to spend time collecting samples and use up sometimes-limited PPE.

The FDA has authorized other at-home coronavirus test kits, but they've all required a doctor's approval. This new over-the-counter COVID-19 test eliminates that barrier.

"With the first over-the-counter at-home collection kit ever authorized by the FDA for COVID-19, we are empowering people to learn about their health and make confident decisions," LabCorp President Brian Caveney said in a press release.

"With this authorization, we can help more people get tested, reduce the spread of the virus, and improve the health of our communities," he continued.

While it is the only over-the-counter COVID-19 test, LabCorp’s kit isn’t the ideal test to stop the spread. That would be an affordable, accurate test that delivers immediate results at home — and it actually exists (you probably can’t get it yet, though).

A Better At-Home COVID-19 Test

Tests that deliver immediate results can help decrease the coronavirus' spread — they let a person know right away if they should be quarantining, which is something they might not otherwise do while waiting for a lab to deliver results.

Those COVID-19 tests also help eliminate processing bottlenecks at labs, which has been an ongoing problem in the U.S.

In November, the FDA authorized an at-home COVID-19 test that delivers results within 30 minutes. However, that test, made by California's Lucira Health, is only available to a very small number of people served by two healthcare providers — and it still requires a prescription.

An over-the-counter COVID-19 test that delivers rapid results would be a game changer.

Lucira said it plans to make the test available nationwide in the spring of 2021. However, there's currently no indication that it'll be sold without a prescription at any point in the future.

In July, FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said that the agency was hoping to authorize an over-the-counter COVID-19 test that could deliver quick results at home and that anyone could buy at their local drugstore.

"These types of tests will be a game changer in our fight against COVID-19 and will be crucial as the nation looks toward reopening," he said.

Five months — and nearly 150,000 COVID-19 deaths later — the U.S. public is still inexplicably waiting for that game-changing test.

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