Summary of Recent Changes
- Added a recommendation for fully vaccinated people who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 to be tested 3-5 days after exposure, and to wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days or until they receive a negative test result.
- Added language about quarantining for fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
- Self-tests are performed by a person at home or anywhere.
- All instructions for performing the test must be followed.
- Self-tests can be used by anyone who is symptomatic regardless of their vaccination status.
- Unvaccinated persons with no COVID-19 symptoms can also use self-tests, especially if they were potentially exposed to someone with COVID-19.
- If an individual tests positive, they should isolate and inform any close contacts.
How To Use a Self-Test
How To Interpret Self-Test Results
Note: If your COVID-19 test is positive, tell a healthcare provider about your positive result and stay in contact with them during your illness. To avoid spreading the virus to others, follow CDC’s guidance for isolation. As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from other people and pets in your home or place of residence. Tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Testing is critically important to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. If you have symptoms or have had a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, you should be tested regardless of your vaccination status. Quarantine if you have been in close contact (within 6 feet of someone for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone who has COVID-19, unless you have been fully vaccinated.
People who are fully vaccinated do NOT need to quarantine after contact with someone who had COVID-19 unless they have symptoms. Although the risk that fully vaccinated people could become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 is low, any fully vaccinated person who experiences symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should isolate themselves from others, be clinically evaluated for COVID-19, and tested for SARS-CoV-2 if indicated. Get tested 3-5 days following a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or until a negative test result.
Fully vaccinated individuals should follow CDC’s recommendations for testing.
If you need to be tested for COVID-19 and can’t get tested by a healthcare provider, you 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.” FDAexternal icon provides information on which self-tests are authorized for use.
These self-collection kits and tests are available either by prescription or over the counter, without a prescription, in a pharmacy or retail store. At present, self-collection kits and tests are used for the detection of current infection.
Read the complete manufacturer’s instructions before using the test. Talk to a healthcare provider if you have questions about the test or your results.
- Some tests require a nasal specimen that can be collected using an anterior nasal swab or a nasal mid-turbinate swab (see the Print Resources section below).
- Other tests require a saliva specimen.
- Wash your hands with soap.
- 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.
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 appear discolored based on the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Clean the countertop, table, or other surfaces 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, clean all surfaces that the specimen may have touched, and wash your hands.
Give your results to your healthcare provider or, if you do not have a healthcare provider, to your local or state health department. Some self-tests have an app that will automatically report your results to the appropriate public health authorities.
Tell a healthcare provider about your positive test result and stay in contact with them during your illness. If your illness becomes severe, seek medical attention. 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 or place of residence. If possible, you should use a separate bathroom. If you need to be around other people or animals in or outside of the home or place of residence, 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 SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 (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.
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 means your current illness is probably 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.
Some self-tests are designed to be used in a series. Serial testing is when a person tests themselves multiple times for COVID-19 on a routine basis, such as every few days. By testing more frequently, you might detect COVID-19 more quickly and could reduce the spread of infection. Some self-administered tests come with more than one test and instructions for performing serial testing.
If your self-test is negative, you should follow the manufacturer’s instructions for serial testing that are included within the kit during purchase, or you can find the instructions for your test (molecularexternal icon or antigenexternal icon) on the FDA website. They will likely recommend you test again within 2 or 3 days. Contact a healthcare provider if you have any questions about your test results or serial testing. You may also use the COVID-19 Viral Testing Tool to help you determine the next steps after testing. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, especially if you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, you should quarantine according to CDC recommendations.
Sometimes the results are inconclusive or not clear, and the test cannot 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 a healthcare provider. The healthcare provider will consider the test result together with your symptoms and possible exposure in deciding how to care for you.
As of July 21, 2021
- Added language about people with symptoms of COVID-19 being tested regardless of vaccination status.
- Expanded language on what to do if your self-test result is negative.
- Included a link to the new COVID-19 Viral Testing Tool.