LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Every home in the United States is eligible to order four free at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests.

What You Need To Know

  • Every home in the United States is eligible to order four free COVID-⁠19 self-tests

  • The tests are straightforward to use and convenient, but they require you to pay close attention to the instructions

  • A misstep while taking a self-test could cause a false negative test

  • First time test takers should have a friend or family member assist to ensure accurate results

Plus, if you have health insurance, via an employer or marketplace, they can reimburse you for up to eight at-⁠home tests each month for each person on your plan. The tests are simple to use and convenient, but they require you to pay close attention to the instructions because a misstep could cause a false negative test.

Nurse Practitioner Amy Doolittle-Crider likes the convenience of the COVID-19 antigen self-tests provide people. 

“Especially when you are sick, and it’s difficult to get an appointment,” said Doolittle-Crider, who works at The Health care Clinic-Norton Prompt Care at Walgreens in Louisville. 

However, she said while the COVID-19 self-tests are easy to take and give results fast, within 15 to 30 minutes, the person taking the test needs to follow the directions or there is a possibility for a false negative result. 

For example, the first step to take a BinaxNOW self-test, one of the COVID-19 antigen tests mailed out by the federal government, is to wash or sanitize your hands and dry them afterward.

“That’s important. I think a lot of people would just jump right on in and not even think about doing that, especially in the comfort of their own home,” Doolittle-Crider explained.

It’s also important to know whenan antigen self-test is appropriate versus going to a testing site or your health care provider to take a PCR test, which is more sensitive at detecting COVID-19.

It’s recommended to take a COVID-19 antigen test when you:

  • have COVID-19 symptoms (fever, sore throat, runny nose, loss of taste or smell, etc.).

  • are at least five days post contact with someone positive with COVID-19.

  • are going to gather with a group of people, especially those who are at risk of severe disease or may not be up to date on their COVID-⁠19 vaccines.

It took Doolittle-Crider about five minutes to read BinaxNow’s instructions. There were distinct steps emphasized as needing to be done exactly as stated or else the result could be a false negative. 

For example, the directions said to put six drops inside the top hole of the self-test card, and the bottle needed to be held straight up, not at an angle. If one puts less than six drops, the result could be a false negative.

It’s also important to swab both nostrils. If both nostrils aren’t swabbed or the sample isn’t properly collected, that could cause a false negative test.

After the sample is collected and properly inserted into the self-test card and then closed, results can be read between 15 to 30 minutes. 

“If we do it too early or too late, it’s considered not a valid test result, so you would need to repeat that test,” Doolittle-Crider explained.

When looking at results, the initial blue control line must be pink or purple and present. Any other color or no control line means the test is invalid.

Any faint pink or purple line on the bottom means COVID-19 was detected.

“It’s kind of like a pregnancy test. It could be a very faint line, but if there’s a line, it does mean that something is detected there,” she said.

If you think you see a bottom line, but you aren’t sure, Doolittle-Crider said to look at the test results again under better lighting and have someone else look at it, too, for another opinion.

In addition, most COVID-19 self-test boxes come with two tests. Regardless if the self-test is negative or positive, it’s recommended to take a second test when the instructions say to ensure accurate results.

If the first test is positive, follow CDC guidelines and isolate right away, and let your health care provider know your result, in case that second self-test is positive.

Lastly, if you have symptoms and test negative twice on an antigen self-test, it’s recommended to get a PCR test, which is more sensitive, to rule out COVID-19.

Doolittle-Crider also recommends first timers taking a COVID-19 self-test do so with someone else following the directions along with them, such as a family member or friend, to ensure no steps are missed so results are accurate.

For more information on the federal government’s free COVID-19 self-tests available to all U.S. homes, and how you can order one for free, visit CovidTest.gov.