As coronavirus rates rise in most parts of the country, many testing centers are inundated with new patients. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the authorization of a brand new rapid COVID-19 test that people can take themselves at home.
"I think that it’s better to have a faster test than a slower one. People tend to abide by the public health recommendation to self-isolate if they have actual data in a reliable timeframe. The danger is that we’re asking people to do this at home. It's not in a controlled setting like a laboratory," says Dr. Amber Schmidtke, a public health microbiologist.
Dr. Schmidtke says there are still questions about how this new rapid at-home test will be interpreted by health officials.
"I actually don't expect them to report it. I would be surprised. You know, most people don't report a home pregnancy test to our Department of Public Health, for example. But I think this is going to be treated much in the same way as a home pregnancy test. You know, if you call your doctor and say, 'I tested positive at home,' they're going to repeat that test as soon as you come in," says Dr. Schmidtke.
The test, which a doctor will have to prescribe, will provide valuable information to people, as long as it is administered correctly.
"What if they don't do it very well? You have to put it in your nose and rub it around both nares. You have to put it in, swirl it around 15 times. You have to let it sit there for 30 seconds. You have to know which button to read. There's lots of things that can go wrong and so if the test is misunderstood and you don't have a professional looking over your shoulder, it could result in some unfortunate things," says Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and infectious disease expert.
Dr. Ray hopes people will use the test correctly so that it really does help prevent COVID-19 transmission in the community.
"What if they use that to decide that they're now negative after exposure so therefore it's safe to go out before their isolation or quarantine ends? And the problem is, they're still in the incubation period, so the test is negative but in fact they’re infected," says Dr. Ray.
Dr. Ray says it will take time to understand how the test works, but it's exciting to have a new tool for the general public to use.