Amid high demand, experts say at-home COVID-19 testing kits not your best option

Experts caution that at-home COVID-19 tests may be more likely to lead to false negatives.


Amid a high overall demand for COVID-19 tests, pharmacists are also seeing high demand for at-home testing kits, but experts caution that they may be more likely to lead to false negatives.

Two pharmacists who carry or have carried the kits told sister station KCCI that a lot of people are seeking out the kits, despite a supply shortage.

Pharmacist Leslie Herron said she's had "some inquiries."

But you won't find any home testing kits on her shelves— and that's on purpose.

"I will not sell them, not at this point anyway," Herron said. "I've made a conscious decision not to. Those tests, in my opinion, are not where they need to be, but even if they were, I think the bigger problem is the chance of a false negative."

Herron and Dr. Barbara Hodne both said that a false negative can have huge consequences when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

"[If] my test says I'm negative, but I maybe actually do have the virus, well, then I might engage in activities where I'm potentially spreading the virus to friends or family members without knowing that I'm doing so," Hodne said. "The rapid tests are all antigen tests, and they have a little lower sensitivity and specificity than the PCR testing has so [they] may have an increased chance of having a false negative test."

Hodne said this can happen for a few reasons.

"If you were doing it and you don't have symptoms, you may have a lower virus load right now, even though you're developing the infection, you just don't have a lot of those viral particles around and so then your test is negative," she said.

She also said that the tests are prone to user error.

"A lot of folks have kind of a hard time sticking the swab up their own nose and getting a great sample," Hodne said. "Any test is only as good as the sample that we've obtained."

Hodne and other doctors with The Iowa Clinic recommend in-person PCR tests for the most accurate results.

"Optimal testing really is to have you seen in a health care setting and have a professional do your testing," she said.

However, Hodne said an at-home test is better than no test at all, if something is keeping you from seeing a health care provider.

"If your situation is such that there's no way that you can get the medical facility testing done, a rapid home test is certainly better than not testing at all," she said.