How effective are at-home COVID tests? Oklahoma health officials weigh in

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Biden administration is making 500 million at-home COVID tests available for Americans at no cost, but how reliable are they?

KFOR spoke with local medical professionals who say this is great news for slowing the spread – but it has its drawbacks.

OU’s Chief COVID Officer, Dr. Dale Bratzler says with at-home tests, the chances of getting a false negative is much more likely than a false positive.

“They’re not as sensitive [as PCR tests,]” he said. “It only detects the virus when the virus is really rapidly growing. So may not be today. You may have early symptoms, but not enough to be detected by the rapid test.”

He suggests that if you feel symptoms, wait a couple of days after a negative test and test again.

Oklahoma State Medical Association President, Dr. Mary Clark points out that they can also create false results due to user error.

“Read the entire instructions before you do the test,” she said. “You might feel confident that, hey, I have a negative result, so I’m good, but actually have really a positive test. It was just collected incorrectly.”

Both say an unintended issue with these tests is that any testing data is not reported by the state department of health.

“That’s part of the problem,” Dr. Bratzler said. “None of that information will show up in any of the national counts of COVID-19 unless the person subsequently follows a positive test by going to the health department or health system and getting a PCR test.”

Dr. Clark says it’s not logistically possible for that to happen with the millions of at-home tests being sent across the country.

“There really is no way to do that, that you would effectively have to have someone at home, log onto a website and do self-reporting,” she said.

Dr. Bratzler says the only way to have that positive count toward state data is to get tested again.

“I encourage people to go into the health department or health system and get the PCR test done just to confirm the positive test,” he said.

Dr. Bratzler says a study by the companies that make the rapid test shows that it detects not only the delta variant but the omicron variant as well.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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