Results in 15 minutes: What to know about the at-home COVID-19 test approved for travel

While it has generally been getting easier to obtain a COVID-19 test for travel purposes, turnaround times can still vary depending on where you’re located.

But on your next drugstore store run, you can pick up allergy medicine, eggs, paper towels — and now, a COVID-19 test. Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expanded the testing program for international travel to the United States, allowing airlines to accept at-home instant tests that include remote supervision.

TPG recently reviewed Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Home Test, which is now CDC-approved for travel to the U.S. And United Airlines announced that this particular test is compatible with the airline’s “Travel-Ready Center,” making it easy to link your results with your reservation. Each test comes with two tests per box, and the company says to swab yourself twice within three days, with at least 36 hours between. A second Abbott rapid test also offers quick results but can’t be used for travel.

To find out more about how Abbott’s rapid COVID-19 test works, TPG spoke with Dr. Mary Rodgers, the principal scientist at Abbott and an infectious disease research and diagnostics, through video chat.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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What is the Abbott rapid COVID-19 test?

Dr. Mary Rodgers: [The test] is a very simple to use tool that is allowing us to have more confidence as we come back to a new sense of normal in travel, especially in everyday life.

It’s something that you can pick up at a store and do in the comfort of your home for yourself or even for your children. This is approved for use as young as 2 years old with adults.

Who will benefit most from Abbott’s at-home COVID-19 test?

Dr. Rodgers: This test is specifically going to work well for people who want to know if someone is contagious. It detects people who are at that level of their infection, where they could spread it to other people — that’s where it has the most utility.

And so that can really be a number of scenarios, [like] someone who’s going to get on an airplane to someone who’s going to visit at a family gathering and not everyone’s vaccinated. Even just wondering if someone has allergies or [COVID-19] — sometimes it’s hard to tell. So, having one of these in a medicine cabinet certainly allows you to answer that question whenever it does come up.

Does this test work if you’re fully vaccinated?

Dr. Rodgers: So far, any COVID-19 infection would present the same on a test, regardless of whether someone’s vaccinated.

If you have the virus at a level that could be contagious to other people, you would come up as positive on this test. There’s still ongoing work to understand how common that may be when people are vaccinated, especially with different versions of vaccines. All of those different scenarios are still kind of being evaluated in real-time to determine how likely someone would get COVID-19 and be contagious. But the test works whether someone’s been vaccinated or not.

Is this a good test for travelers?

Dr. Rodgers: It’s the most affordable and the fastest turnaround, [and] the simplest test to do. The fact that it’s widely available also makes it particularly useful for people who are traveling because you could pick it up anywhere in the U.S., regardless of whether you’re coming or going from a particular area because [chains nationwide] carry the test.

Where can you buy a test, and how much does it cost?

Dr. Rodgers: Walmart, CVS and Walgreens, and it’s available over the counter. It’s [a] self-reported [test] so [it’s not being] added into the system.

The home test, which was [in] the United announcement, is where someone’s walking [you through the test], and you’re getting digital verified results. And someone watched you take the test and [digitally sends the test results.] That’s the proctored digital verified results, which is $25 per test because you’re getting all of those things as part of it. And the over-the-counter [non-proctored test] is $23.99.

Even with vaccines, why is rapid testing still necessary?

Dr. Rodgers: Rapid testing is still important, even with vaccines, because until the whole world is vaccinated, we’re going to continue to be at risk and need to know whether someone has been infected.

As long as that need is there, we’ll need to have rapid tests available to have as much testing as possible. The testing needs have evolved, and advocates [are] trying to fill those needs to have as many options available as possible. Because the more people that can get tested, the closer we can get to reducing cases and hopefully seeing a new phase where we’re getting into recovery [as positive cases decrease].

How accurate is the test?

Dr. Rodgers: For people who are within seven days of when they start to feel sick or when they got infected, there’s over 95% accuracy of detecting an infection. And that’s people who are most contagious because they have a level of virus that’s high enough to easily be detected by an antigen test.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy