Administering and Reporting At-Home Rapid Antigen Tests
Updated: Jan 27
The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) has launched a new web portal through Maryland OneStop for reporting results from at-home rapid antigen tests. Rapid antigen tests are a safe, easy, and fast way to screen for potential COVID-19 cases at home or in the workplace. At-home tests are a convenient alternative for anyone who is unable to access a PCR test right away.
WHO SHOULD USE AT-HOME TESTS?
Any person who is symptomatic and/or has been exposed to someone who has COVID-19 should get tested, regardless of vaccination status. Symptomatic individuals should get tested as soon as possible, though it’s important to note that people infected with the Omicron strain may not test positive immediately after onset of symptoms. Anyone who receives a negative result but is symptomatic and has had a known exposure should perform a second test 24-36 hours after the first.
Individuals who are not symptomatic but have had a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 should get tested AFTER five days have passed since the date of exposure. The virus takes several days to build up to detectable levels within the body.
ACQUIRING AT-HOME TESTS
Beginning January 18, 2022, the federal government is making at-home COVID-19 test kits available to Americans at no cost, including no shipping fee. There is a limit of four free tests per household. People with internet access may visit http://covidtests.gov/ to order their tests at any time. People without internet access may order tests by calling 800-232-0233 between 8 AM and midnight, seven days a week. The hotline offers services in English, Spanish and 150 other languages.
At-home rapid antigen tests are available for purchase online and in pharmacies and retail stores. To ease the expense burden of these tests on American families, the White House has issued an order that requires private health plans to cover up to eight over-the-counter COVID-19 test kits per household member, at up to $12 per test. Consumers can either purchase the kits at no cost or submit receipts for reimbursement from their insurance companies.
PCR tests and rapid tests ordered or administered by a health provider will continue to be fully covered by insurance with no limit.
TAKING THE TEST
The procedures for administering at-home tests can vary across different manufacturers. For this reason, it is important to read all instructions for each test kit carefully, paying special attention to the timing instructions; reading results too early or too late can result in an incorrect reading. Also be sure to blow your nose and wash your hands before you begin. When it is time to perform the nasal swab, hold the swab by the stick end and insert the absorbent tip ½ to ¾ inch inside the left nostril. Move it in a circular motion at least five times for a total of 15 seconds. Use the same swab to repeat this process in the right nostril. Then follow the test kit instructions for obtaining results.
Individuals who receive negative results either (1) do not currently have an active COVID-19 infection, or (2) do have COVID-19 but were tested too early or too late in the virus’ progression to show a positive result. It’s important to remember that asymptomatic individuals may still transmit the virus to others. To be safe, these individuals should retest 24-36 hours after the initial test and should continue to wash hands, wear masks, and limit contact with others until ten days after a known exposure.
Individuals who receive positive results most likely have an active COVID-19 infection. These individuals should isolate themselves from others, including other household members. They should also report their positive test results to the Maryland Department of Health through the Maryland OneStop Portal and sign up for a laboratory-based test through their local health department to confirm the at-home test result. Positive individuals should follow the CDC’s recommended guidelines for treating the illness and preventing its spread.
Maryland residents who test positive should communicate their test results to their healthcare provider and inform close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. To initiate the contact tracing process, including receiving work or school excuse and release letters, you can report your results either through the mobile app associated with your at-home test, or through the Maryland COVID Positive At-Home Test Report Portal, found here: covidlink.maryland.gov/selfreport
A note on self-reporting: the at-home positive tests reported through MDH’s new portal will NOT be included in the case numbers reported by MDH on its data dashboard. Only laboratory- or provider-reported PCR results are counted in the daily case numbers.
For more information about self-testing with rapid antigen tests, visit the CDC’s website: https://bit.ly/3fnr49F
Download our one-page infographic about at-home testing here: