Pharmacies now offering over-the-counter same-day Covid tests

Even with half the country partially vaccinated, public health experts say that increasing access to testing is critical to beating the virus and keeping it at bay.

By Ben Popken and Jacob Ward

Several at-home Covid tests have hit retail pharmacies, offering results in as little as 15 minutes. No prescription is required, there’s no need to mail a kit to any lab, and patients can get truly same-day results without going through a provider.

Shoppers can buy the BinaxNow kit online at CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart for $23.99 suggested retail price, plus shipping. The tests are being shipped to retail stores this week, so customers should be able to find the kits on physical store shelves soon.

Even with half the country already partially vaccinated, public health experts say that increasing access to testing is critical to beating the virus and keeping it at bay.

“Until the pandemic is clearly over, to have testing resources in all platforms, home, point of care, and hospital, is an essential tool,” said Thomas Denny, professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at Duke University Medical Center.

According to a Monmouth University poll released April 15, up to 20 percent of Americans say they won’t get vaccinated. “That’s a lot of potential infections going forward,” Denny said.

For the BinaxNow, the kit and experience is similar to buying and using an at-home pregnancy test. The box contains three items, a dropper, a card, and a swab.

The user opens the card to start the test and applies six drops from the dropper in the top hole to start the test. Then they swab the sides of each nostril, not needing to go all the way back, circling five times, to take the sample. Then they open the card and insert the swab in the test hole and rotate three times to start the test. After 15 minutes, a line in the test window indicates a positive result. A line in the control window means negative.

“This allows us to come back with more confidence to things that we haven’t been able to do as well for a while, like gathering with our family, or going back to school or workplace with more confidence,” said Mary Rodgers, principal scientist at Abbott Laboratories, manufacturer of the BinaxNow test kit.

“An example would be, it’s allergy season, the symptoms of allergies can be kind of similar to Covid,” she said. “A lot of people may wonder, is this allergies? Or is this Covid? And so now we have the ability to find out for ourselves.”

Abbott says the tests are 95 percent effective. Each pack contains two tests, allowing for a second test after 36 hours to confirm results.

Other at-home tests, also with Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, are soon hitting the market. Quidel expects to start shipping its QuickVue next week and estimates the price will be about $30. The Ellume test will be available nationally online and in stores by the end of May for $38.99.

All can be used to confirm symptoms or when a patient is asymptomatic but thinks they might have had an exposure.

“For the future, this type of network should be established and held in a warm readiness state,” Denny said.