Medical expert says at-home COVID-19 tests may not be as accurate as you think

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parents may be anxious to test their kid if they are exposed to the COVID-19 delta variant while at school or in extracurricular activities, but the chief medical officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics says it’s all about timing.

“They’ll [parents] often come to us and say my child was exposed in class today or yesterday and they want to be tested right away. Well, that’s too early to be tested for any test,” said Dr. Stanley Spinner.

At-home COVID-19 testing can be a convenient option for parents wanting instant test results. Dr. Spinner says if the rapid test returns positive, “it’s pretty reliable that that person has COVID and should isolate at home for that minimum of 10 days. The real question is what happens if you get a negative result.”

Spinner says the efficacy of the test can vary.

“The accuracy of this test could be as high as 80%, which is not bad, but they could be 60%, maybe even 50%, based on their timing,” Spinner said.

He says testing for the virus too soon if a child is asymptomatic could result in a false sense of security. 

“If a parent doesn’t understand that and goes and buys an at-home test and runs that test that day and it comes back negative, they may say ‘oh, my child’s negative. No quarantine [and] back to school.’ That opens up the door for their kid to potentially be contagious and go and infect others.”

His advice is to follow up with a more accurate COVID test at your physician’s office even if the results take days instead of minutes. 

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