If you need to be tested for COVID-19 and can’t get tested by a healthcare provider, you and your healthcare provider can consider using either a self-collection kit or a self-test that can be performed at home or anywhere else. Sometimes a self-test is also called a “home-test” or an “at-home test.”
These self-collection kits and tests are available either by prescription or over the counter in a pharmacy or retail store without a prescription. Currently available self-collection kits and tests are used for the detection of current infection.
Types of Specimens
- Some tests require a nasal specimen that can be collected using an anterior nasal swab or a nasal mid-turbinate swab.
- Other tests require a saliva specimen.
Prepare to Collect a Specimen
- Wash your hands.
- Open the box and follow the manufacturer’s instructions included with the specimen collection or test kit to collect your own nasal or saliva specimen.
- If you don’t collect the specimens as directed, your test results may be incorrect.
Once collected, send the specimen to a testing facility or use the specimen, as described in the manufacturer’s instructions, to complete the self-test.
Performing the Test
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly and perform the steps in the order that they are listed. The manufacturer may also provide other resources, such as quick reference guides or instructional videos, to help you perform the test correctly.
- Store all test components according to the manufacturer’s instructions until ready for use.
- Check the expiration date. Don’t use expired tests or test components that are damaged or discolored.
- Disinfect the countertop, table, or other surface where you will do the test.
- Don’t open test devices or other test components until you are ready to start the testing process.
- Read and record test results only within the amount of time specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. A result read before or after the specified timeframe may be incorrect.
- Don’t reuse test devices or other components.
After you have the results, discard the specimen collection swab and test kit in the trash, disinfect all surfaces that the specimen may have touched, and wash your hands.
Communicate your results to your healthcare provider, who is responsible for reporting your test results to the state health department. If the at-home test has an app that allows you to report your results to the state health department, inform your healthcare provider whether you used that app for results reporting.
If Your Test Is Negative
A negative test result means that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was not found in your specimen. If you took the test while you had symptoms and followed all instructions carefully, a negative result usually means your current illness is not COVID-19.
However, it is possible for a test to give a negative result in some people who have COVID-19 (this is called a false negative). You could also test negative if the specimen was collected too early in your infection. In this case, you could test positive later during your illness. Discuss your symptoms and test results with your healthcare provider to determine if you need follow-up testing.
If Your Test Is Positive
Tell your healthcare provider about your positive test result and stay in contact with them during your illness. To avoid spreading the virus to others, follow CDC recommendations. See CDC’s guidance Isolate if You are Sick, which has information for a person who tests positive and has symptoms, and for a person who doesn’t have symptoms.
As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from other people and pets in your home. If possible, you should use a separate bathroom. If you need to be around other people or animals in or outside of the home, wear a mask. Don’t share personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils. Monitor your symptoms. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), seek emergency medical care immediately.
Tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours (or 2 days) before the person has any symptoms or tests positive. By letting your close contacts know they may have been exposed to COVID-19, you are helping to protect everyone.
If Your Result Shows Invalid or Error
Sometimes the results are not clear or are inconclusive, and the test is unable to tell you if your results are positive or negative.
If the display on the self-test shows an invalid result or a test error, the test did not work properly. If this happens, refer to the instructions for use in the package insert and contact the manufacturer for assistance.
Invalid results can occur for many reasons. Your specimen may not have been collected correctly or the testing instrument may have malfunctioned. Invalid test results are rare but can occur.
Regardless of what your test results are, you should always review the results with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will consider the test result together with your symptoms and possible exposure in deciding how to care for you.