5 On Your Side

Time, cost, certainty are caveats if you take a mail-order COVID test

Posted November 18, 2020 5:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2020 6:17 p.m. EST

Maybe you’ve seen the growing number of ads for mail-order COVID-19 tests. They offer results from the comfort of your home, but they are different from the test approved on Tuesday by the FDA.

5 On Your Side’s Monica Laliberte looked into the options and asked an expert: Do all mail-order tests work?

With COVID cases increasing, continued testing is needed.

Beyond drive-thru sites, mail-order COVID tests are now an option.

"They’re good tests, " says Dr. John Sanders, chief of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Health. "As far as we can tell so far, the results are reliable."

Sanders says the tests come with a few caveats.

First, they have what’s called "emergency authorization use" from the FDA. That’s different from FDA approval.

"An EUA really tells us that they had enough data for the FDA to say that this is safe and it may help," said Sanders. "Not enough data to say, ‘Oh, this is a really good thing to use.’"

The second consideration is time.

A mail-order test requires the user to fill out forms to request the purchase, wait for the test in the mail, mail back a sample, then wait for results.

Sanders that wait is a disadvantage.

"Most of our clinics, we’re getting the results back now in one, one to three days at the most, often that same day," he said.

Another consideration is cost.

"Some of the companies that are running these tests don’t have it worked out to charge your insurance, and you may or may not get reimbursed from your insurance company for the test," Sanders said.

For some though, the convenience may be worth it.

"People who live a long way from a health care provider, but who get regular mail and regular FedEx, this is a great way to do it," Sanders said.

Reading the information from the testing companies, one warned a negative test isn’t a green light .

They say patients also need to consider their symptoms and if they were possibly exposed.

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