What to know about COVID-19 testing before holiday season


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ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM/AP) – The holiday season is a time to gather with friends and family. With larger gatherings comes a greater chance to spread COVID-19, so some are preparing to test ahead of the holidays. As the weather gets colder, local healthcare organizations are preparing for more COVID-19 tests and infections.

“We’re seeing a lot more cases just in general of sickness, including COVID-19,” Dr. Justin Nistico, infectious disease expert at Arnot Health, explained.

At-home COVID-19 tests are widely available this year, which is different from the 2020 Holidays. Which tests are most effective before seeing loved ones?

“The tricky part about this with the home testing is that there obviously is a little bit of difficulty with checking those reagents and knowing exactly that every single box of that home test is going to be the same,” Dr. Nistico continued.

Ellume is recalling its at-home COVID-19 test over the potential of false-positive results, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

The FDA classified the recall as a Class I recall – the most serious type – and said the use of these tests could cause serious health consequences or death.

According to the New York Times, at-home COVID-19 tests are generally 85 percent accurate, but they miss 15 percent of infections.

“There has been a huge discrepancy where a lot of these tests that are done they are reporting false-positive results, meaning that you’re getting a positive result when in fact you don’t have COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Nistico added.

Dr. Nistico says at-home tests can be useful in that they are easy to access. Several are available online or in stores. They are a good substitute if the patient does not live near a COVID-19 testing site; however, the highly regulated rapid or PCR tests are more accurate.

Can at-home COVID-19 tests make holiday gatherings safer?

Yes, combined with vaccination, home test kits for COVID-19 can add a layer of safety and reassurance by providing on-the-spot results during this second year of pandemic holidays.

“We will be using rapid tests to double-check everybody before we gather together,” says Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists, who is planning a holiday meal with six vaccinated family members. “We’ll be doing it as they come in the door.”

Home kits are not as accurate as the PCR tests done in hospitals and at testing sites, Volk says. But they have the advantage of giving results within minutes instead of days.

Testing kits are available at drugstores without a prescription, and a box with two tests typically costs about $25. Swabs, testing solution and instructions are included.

Adults and teens can test themselves. An adult can test a child as young as 2. How-to videos on product websites can be helpful.

Most tests require swabbing about a half-inch inside both nostrils, so it may tickle but doesn’t hurt. You will get a positive result if the test detects a viral protein in your sample.

Home tests will miss some infections and in rare cases mistakenly indicate an infection. One popular test misses around 15 out of 100 infections — these are called “false negatives” — and gives a false positive result in about 1 in 100 people who aren’t infected.

Test shortages were widely reported during the last COVID-19 surge, but new options have recently hit the market and major manufacturers such as Abbott Laboratories have ramped up production.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers other tips on ways to enjoy the holidays safely. Vaccination remains the best way to protect against coronavirus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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