As At-home COVID test fly off store shelves, doctors warns: Be careful with the results

Posted at 6:24 PM, Dec 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 19:24:44-05

MILWAUKEE — At-home COVID tests are in high demand as the case numbers skyrocket. But those tests now come with some additional guidance from the FDA and doctors.

The chief quality officer at UW Health, Dr. Jeff Pothof, says it is a good idea for people to check their COVID status with at-home test as long as they understand the results aren’t perfect.

At home covid test
Ariel Kahana, 10, shows her COVID-19 Antigen test result, ahead of the first day of school, at her home in Moshav Talmey Yafe, Israel, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

“They're very fast, you get your results within 15 minutes. I think where they have some limitations is they typically require a little bit higher viral load for you to turn positive. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, what this means that that these tests are most useful in patients who are experiencing, you know, at least some mild symptoms,” said Pothof.

This week the FDA said the antigen tests, which are usually the kind of tests that are in at-home kits, are not as effective in detecting the omicron variant.

 At-home COVID-19 test
An At-home COVID-19 test found at a Milwaukee area pharmacy.

“If you live in Wisconsin, the most likely variant that you'll get right now is Omicron. With these antigen based tests, with the changes to occur on those mutations, it is likely to decrease a little bit that performance of those antigen based tests,” said Pothof.

On top of that, at-home tests are hard to find. It took multiple pharmacy visits before we found a test.

At-home COVID-19 test
A Milwaukee-area pharmacy was sold out of At-home COVID-19 tests.

The Biden administration says it is trying to get more tests out to the public. Right now it has provided 50 million rapid tests to community health centers. In the next month, it plans to distribute 500 million free tests.

In the meantime, if you get your hands on one, Pothof says make sure you are smart about the results.

“I think the practical way to approach at home testing is, if you have symptoms and you test it almost doesn't matter what the test result is don't go out in public because you have either COVID 19 or something else that you could spread to folks. I think if you have symptoms and you have a negative rapid test the next best thing to do is to get a PCR tests,” said Pothof.

UW Health also says if you test positive at home, don’t forget to inform your local health department. Pothof also said you should either call or message your primary care doctor, you don’t need to go to an urgent care or emergency room unless you are in medical distress.

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