Story at a glance
- At-home COVID-19 tests are being widely used across the country and are available at drug stores and pharmacies.
- Health experts are warning that test kits are incredibly sensitive to extreme temperatures.
- The ideal location of an at-home COVID-19 test is a dry, room temperature place.
There’s been a rapid rise in the use of at-home COVID-19 tests, but health experts are warning that for those tests to provide accurate results, people must use them appropriately.
Many drug stores and pharmacies across the country have been selling at-home tests and the federal government has also made four tests available to every American free of charge, but once those tests arrive in peoples’ homes, there are specific steps that need to be taken to ensure the tests are accurate.
Amy Mathers, associate professor of medicine and pathology and director of clinical microbiology at the University of Virginia, told NBC News that exposure to extreme hot or cold temperatures may affect the accuracy of at-home tests.
“When you cook an egg, it denatures the proteins,” said Mathers. “And in this test are proteins that are going to be very sensitive to becoming too hot.”
Mathers said after exposure to very high temperatures, at-home tests may be permanently damaged in a way that affects the sensitivity of the tests.
Colder temperatures are also risky, as Mathers warned not to use at-home test kits whose liquids have frozen.
All at-home tests are slightly different, but they are all meant to be kept within a specific range of temperatures. Omai Garner, associate clinical professor and director of clinical microbiology at University of California at Los Angeles Health, also told NBC that in general people should keep their at-home tests between 35 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
That means if someone is ordering at-home tests online they shouldn’t leave them outside after they’ve been delivered or leave them in a car for too long where temperatures can easily fluctuate.
The ideal location for an at-home COVID-19 test is a dry, room temperature place.
Another important aspect to using at-home tests is simply reading the instructions, as Mathers explained the process requires a person’s full attention.
“These are medical tests,” said Mathers.
“They’re developed for use in medical settings by trained personnel. So, you really, really need to follow the instructions to the exact letter,” Mathers added.
Garner also pointed out that when it comes to running the at-home COVID-19 test, temperature is even more important as most tests work best when between 65 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Taking at-home tests outside isn’t recommended, as extreme weather conditions could impact the accuracy as well.
Lastly, Garner emphasized the most common rapid test mistake is not reading the results within the proper period.
At-home tests typically require a user to wait 15 to 30 minutes after taking the test for results to appear and reading the results too soon could result in a false-negative. Reading the results too late could also give a false-positive result.
Though at-home tests are convenient, Michelle Barron, senior medical director of infection prevention and control for UC Health in Colorado, warned they’re only accurate about 80 percent of the time.
Barron said not to assume an at-home test is accurate if you’re feeling sick and get a negative test result. She also recommended not assuming an at-home test is accurate if you’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus and you’re feeling sick.
“Use your common sense. Do not use a negative result with an at-home test as a free pass to go out if you have symptoms. If you have a sore throat, a runny nose, a headache or any of the other symptoms of COVID-19 and you get a negative test result, you probably have COVID-19 and the test is missing it,” said Barron.
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