The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention details how to use an at-home COVID-19 test to make decisions regarding isolation and quarantining.
1. Why use an at-home test?
Self-testing offers fast results. Self-tests are one of several options for testing for the virus that causes COVID-19 and may be more convenient than laboratory-based tests and point-of-care tests. Consider keeping self-tests at home or where you may need them.
2. When should I consider using an at-home test?
Self-tests may be used if you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed or potentially exposed to an individual with COVID-19.
Even if you don’t have symptoms and have not been exposed to an individual with COVID-19, using a self-test before gathering indoors with others can give you information about the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. This is especially important before gathering with unvaccinated children, older individuals, those who are immunocompromised, or individuals at risk of severe disease.
3. What should I do if the test is positive?
You should stay home and isolate for five days and have at least been fever free for more than 24 hours. Also, tell a healthcare provider about your positive test result and stay in contact with them. If your illness becomes severe, seek medical attention. If you have an emergency warning sign (including trouble breathing), seek emergency medical care immediately. To avoid spreading the virus to others, follow CDC recommendations.
Tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. A person with COVID-19 can begin spreading it starting 48 hours before the person has any symptoms or tests positive. By informing your close contacts they may have been exposed, you are helping to protect everyone.
If you think your positive test result may be incorrect, contact a healthcare provider to determine whether or not additional testing is necessary.
4. What if the test is negative?
A negative test result means the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in your specimen, and you may have a lower risk of transmitting the disease to others. If you took the test while you had symptoms and followed all instructions carefully, a negative result means your current illness is probably not COVID-19, though it does not rule out a COVID-19 infection.
However, it is possible for a test to give a negative result in some people who have COVID-19. This is called a false negative. You could also test negative if the specimen was collected too early in your infection. In this case, you could test positive later during your illness.
5. Should I retest at a later time if the test is negative?
By testing more frequently, you might detect the virus that causes COVID-19 more quickly and could reduce the spread of infection. Some self-tests include instructions for performing serial testing, including the number of days between tests, and may include more than one test in the package.