Health Advice



COVID-19 testing at home is both possible and reliable. Here's what you need to know.

Marie McCullough, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

Remember when a COVID-19 diagnostic test meant waiting in your car for a nurse wearing head-to-toe PPE to shove a long swab down your throat and send the sample to a lab that would take a week or more to return results?

That was so 2020.

Now you can get molecular test kits delivered to your door — no prescription needed ― then mail a shallow nose swab or a saliva sample to a lab that returns results in a day or two. Or, if you’re willing to sacrifice some accuracy for convenience, you can order antigen tests online that give rapid results right at home. You may have to pay for the test, depending on why you need it and what your insurance covers.

The Food and Drug Administration has even authorized emergency use of what sounds like an ideal pandemic diagnostic tool: a highly accurate molecular test that requires no prescription, can be used anywhere, and provides immediate results. Alas, the CUE COVID-19 Test is not yet being sold directly to consumers, just to institutions that contract to buy it in bulk.

All this is happening at a time when COVID-19 tests are considered a key element in bringing the pandemic back under some semblance of control. The White House said President Joe Biden would call for boosting testing in his speech Thursday about battling the pandemic.

Here is an update on the ever-evolving, vast (321 and counting) array of COVID-19 diagnostic tests authorized by regulators:



Molecular, or PCR, tests are the gold standard for diagnosing COVID-19 because they can detect trace amounts of viral genetic material.

Molecular test kits can now be ordered online or by phone, but you still have to send your sample back to a lab capable of doing “high complexity” molecular analysis. Results are usually sent by email within a few days. The list of authorized tests is on the COVID-19 test tracker as well as the FDA website.

Everlywell, for example, charges $109 for its PCR test kit, no prescription needed. You can submit your receipt for reimbursement “at the discretion of your health insurance provider.”


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