I tried an at-home COVID-19 test, and it didn't exactly go the way I thought it would.
In the first few months of 2020, getting a COVID-19 test was nearly impossible. Emergency rooms were backlogged, clinic waiting rooms were full and drive-through testing sites had lines out to the streets. COVID-19 tests were in such short supply that you had to be showing serious symptoms to even be considered for a test.
Now, as we're nearly to the last quarter of 2020, getting tested for the novel coronavirus is as easy as clicking through a few screens on your smartphone. Pretty much anyone can get tested for COVID-19, partly thanks to at-home testing kits manufactured by home health brands such as LetsGetChecked and Everlywell.
I was curious about at-home coronavirus test kits, so I decided to try one from LetsGetChecked.
For full disclosure, I haven't ever experienced COVID-19 symptoms and haven't knowingly been in contact with anyone who was infected with COVID-19. Because of this, I don't qualify to order the test online, so I requested a test kit from the company for the purposes of testing out the experience.
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As of September 2020, there are eight at-home COVID-19 tests available to consumers. Those include tests from LetsGetChecked, Everlywell, Pixel by Labcorp, Vault, Hims, Hers, Phosphorus and Picture by Fulgent Genetics.
A few brands, including LetsGetChecked, released at-home coronavirus tests as early as March 2020, but the FDA quickly put a stop to the production of these tests to ensure no "unauthorized fraudulent test kits" were on the market.
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Later, the FDA administered Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for at-home COVID-19 test kits that fit certain criteria -- namely that the FDA saw value in the product and believed it could detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. You can see the entire list of EUAs for the novel coronavirus on the FDA website.
Now, several months into the pandemic, you can purchase an at-home coronavirus test with ease -- it's like buying anything else on the internet, except you have to take a prescreening test to ensure you're eligible for the test.
I took the at-home COVID-19 test from LetsGetChecked, a pretty prominent name in the at-home health test kit market. The LetsGetChecked at-home coronavirus test kit costs $119 and utilizes a lower nasal swab.
To order the test, you have to complete the online questionnaire. The quiz asks about any symptoms you may have, as well as your possible exposure to the novel coronavirus. You will not qualify for the test if you have severe symptoms, because the company says you should seek medical treatment for such symptoms.
You can't take the assessment twice, so be careful (and honest) when you go through it.
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The LetsGetChecked at-home COVID-19 test comes in a plain white box with the LetsGetChecked logo. Inside the box, you'll find several informational cards, an instructional pamphlet, your test materials and a prepaid return shipping label.
Make sure you read all of the instructions before opening the test materials. There are a few steps you need to take before taking the test, which include filling out an information card with your birthday, gender, date and time. Then you'll register the test online. If you don't register the test online, it won't be processed and you'll never get your results.
I was pretty nervous to take the test because I'd heard awful accounts of COVID-19 tests (some exact words I've heard include "I swear, the swab was in my brain" -- ick). But, the LetsGetChecked coronavirus test is a lower nasal swab, meaning there's no "in your brain" feeling.
For a lower nasal swab, all you do is insert the provided swab into your nostril, swirl it around for 10 seconds and repeat in the other nostril. Some other at-home coronavirus tests take saliva samples instead of nasal swabs, and in my past experience with medical tests and clinical trials, I think the lower nasal swab is less intensive than the "spit in a tube" method.
The test was very easy to take and didn't give me any pain or discomfort, although swabbing did make me feel like I was going to sneeze about a hundred times. No uncontrollable sneezing occurred, thankfully.
LetsGetChecked provides phenomenally detailed instructions so I felt confident I was doing everything right throughout the process -- I think it'd be pretty hard to send back an invalid sample, because the step-by-step instructions don't leave much room for error. Your package comes with a pamphlet, but you also get the instructions online with videos when you register your test.
LetsGetChecked provides a prepaid label and shipping instructions, so sending the test kit back is super easy. Just follow the instructions that came in the box and leave the package outside for UPS to pick up. Keep in mind you need to send the package back on the same day you take your test, or your sample might be compromised.
Overall, this process was incredibly easy and user-friendly. I can't speak for other at-home coronavirus tests, such as those from EverlyWell, Pixel by Labcorp or Phosphorus, but I imagine the process being similar: You take a qualifying assessment, buy a test, get it delivered, take the test, and send it back with a prepaid shipping label.
I got my results within three days of my sample arriving at the test lab (the website says to allow up to 72 hours from receipt). Despite feeling so confident during the sample-taking process, something evidently went wrong with my test. I excitedly opened the email with my results, only to be disappointed by the result: "clotted."
I wasn't sure what this meant, and the results page said little more than "This doesn't mean you have COVID-19," followed by some instructions for taking precautions just in case I did have the illness. I reached out to the company for clarification, and LetsGetChecked told me that, though getting a "clotted" result is rare, it does happen.
LetsGetChecked said that it could really be anything -- perhaps my test tube didn't seal right, or maybe the package sat out on my porch for too long before a UPS driver picked it up.
I decided to try again, in hopes I can get a valid sample the next time around. When I get my new results, I'll be back to update this story.
As promised, I ordered another at-home COVID-19 test from LetsGetChecked to see if I could get real, insightful results. Of course, because I haven't shown any symptoms of the novel coronavirus, like, ever (and certainly not within the time frame during which I took the test), I fully expected a negative.
And that's what I got -- no self-isolation for me, thankfully!
Overall, I'm happy with this process, even though my first test didn't go as planned. LetsGetChecked isn't at fault for the invalid result. Plus, A LetsGetChecked spokesperson said that the company typically sends a free test to people who receive an invalid result, which offers some peace of mind for anyone nervous about spending $100+ on a coronavirus test.