6 At-Home COVID-19 Tests Approved for Kids and Adults
As of mid-January, every household in the U.S. can receive four free at-home COVID-19 tests just by filling out this form with the U.S. Postal Service. But as most of us who have been living through the pandemic know, that's probably not going to be enough. With the Omicron variant still infecting record numbers of people and the continued uncertainty of what may come after that, it seems like a pretty good idea to have some rapid at-home tests (a.k.a. antigen tests) on hand for any time you may have been exposed or plan to meet with groups of people. And many parents want to know: Which at-home COVID test is best for kids and families to use?
At the moment, that choice may be out of your hands, instead determined by whether there are any rapid tests available at local or online pharmacies. Since President Joe Biden mandated that private insurers must cover at-home COVID tests, you should check your plan's website to see if it covers kits directly when you buy them at a preferred pharmacy. But according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, most insurance companies are instead asking customers to buy kits on their own and submit receipts for reimbursement. If that's the case, you should be able to buy any of the kits listed below, all of which have been given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration. But first, you may still have some more questions.
When Should I Give My Child an At-Home COVID Test?
Even if testing kits are free and readily available, you don't need to be swabbing your kids all that frequently without cause, Denise Scott, MD, an Oklahoma-based pediatrician with JustAnswer, tells Parents.
"The purpose of the test is primarily for testing after exposure or for someone with symptoms," Dr. Scott says. "Testing can also be done prior to an indoor group gathering, for travel purposes, or after a high-risk activity such as being in a crowd, but testing should be done for a specific reason, not to monitor randomly."
Dr. Scott explains that exposure is still defined as "being within 6 feet for a cumulative time of at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period to an individual with a confirmed or probable Sars-CoV-2 [COVID-19] case from two days prior to the onset of symptoms until that person isolates." But she also adds that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines exposure for students in classrooms as within 3 feet for at least 15 minutes (cumulative over 24 hours) of an infected person or within 6 feet if at least one party (either the infected or uninfected person) was unmasked or incorrectly wearing their mask.
What Should I Look for in a COVID Test for Kids?
"The gold standard for testing is the molecular PCR test, which is the most sensitive, specific, and reliable for symptomatic or asymptomatic patients," Dr. Scott says of the slower test type, which must be processed in a lab. A PCR test is less likely to give a false negative for someone who has no symptoms, and it's also the only type of test approved for children under 2.
But there are a lot of advantages to using a rapid at-home test kit. "These kits detect proteins or antigens from the outer part of the Sars-CoV-2 virus and are essentially a home version of the antigen tests used in clinics," Dr. Scott explains. "These tests are reliable for diagnosis in someone with symptoms. The antigen tests are not as sensitive as the molecular tests but are less expensive and give a rapid result."
When shopping for a rapid antigen test for a child, Dr. Scott says to read the descriptions carefully to be sure that the test has been approved for use in children ages 2 and older and to see whether it's indicated only for testing someone with symptoms (diagnostic) or is also approved for someone without symptoms (screening).
"Many require two tests, 36 hours apart if the first is negative, so a kit that has two tests in one box is best," Dr. Scott advises. "Also be sure that it is an all-in-one test kit and not a collection kit in which the specimen is obtained at home then sent to the laboratory for [PCR] testing."
Of the antigen tests on the FDA's EUA list, the only real differences between them are minor ones. They vary in the method of adding the swab sample to the testing agent, the time to wait for the results (all 30 minutes or less), and the way you will read the results (lines on the test or via an app).
Below are the at-home COVID tests approved for children that are easiest to buy and to use.