- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2020

At-home test kits for COVID-19 diagnosis could be nearly as accurate as getting tested by health care workers, according to a research letter released this week.

The sensitivity and specificity of home collection swabs was 80% and 97.9% when compared with clinician swabs, the authors, who hail from the University of Washington (UW) and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, found.

That means the at-home swab tests picked up about 80% of the positive cases that were found in clinics, Dr. Helen Chu, the study’s lead author and infectious disease expert at UW, told NBC News. For patients who had more virus in their nasal cavities, the at-home tests detected up to 95% of the positive cases that were found in the clinic, Dr. Chu said.

The study, published Wednesday in JAMA, involved 185 individuals who got tested for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, including 41 with a positive diagnosis.

The researchers used home-based swab self-collection and rapid delivery services, therefore avoiding participant contact with the health care system and minimizing use of personal protective equipment. At-home testing kits allow for widespread testing and should be targeted toward individuals early in illness when the risk of transmission is highest, possibly prompting self-isolation and contact tracing, the letter’s authors argue.

“Increased diagnostics are urgently needed to contain the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Home self-collected swabs may increase testing access while minimizing exposure risk to health care workers and depletion of personal protective equipment, allowing for early community detection of COVID-19,” wrote the study’s authors. “As societies reopen, expansion of testing is critical for preventing a global resurgence in COVID-19. Home swab collection has the potential to play a pivotal role in increasing testing access across the broader population.”

There are massive delays in coronavirus testing in the U.S., with reports of some people waiting up to two weeks to find out their results. Using at-home test swabs and not having patients go in for appointments could help alleviate some of the wait period, according to Dr. Chu. Also, the at-home tests used in the study were less invasive than the standard nasal swab.

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