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At-home tests are effective in detecting COVID-19, say Seattle researchers

Dr. Helen Chu shows the swabs people can use at home to test for coronavirus infection.


Tests people can take themselves at home work about as well at detecting COVID-19 as tests given by health care providers, according to Seattle researchers. They say self-administered tests could play a big role in confronting coronavirus, as well as future outbreaks. 

The Seattle Flu Study, run by the University of Washington, sent out thousands of nasal swab kits in January and February. Having combed through the results of 2,353 kits, researchers say at-home tests are accurate, and have a lot of advantages over requiring people to get tested by a health professional.

Study lead Helen Chu says, for one thing, it keeps people from having to travel and potentially expose themselves or others. 

And the so-called swab-and-send kits allow more testing among people who don’t feel sick enough to go to the doctor. 

“If we’re able to find these people early, tell them that they have coronavirus, then that would change their behavior and allow them to isolate at home and prevent transmission to others in the community,” Chu said. 

People can request a test be sent to their homethrough the Greater Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, or SCAN. 

For now, Chu says, most people should get the test only if they’re feeling sick. But she says testing certain groups without symptoms, such as health workers and children, might provide useful information on the virus and its spread. 

The findings are reportedin the New England Journal of Medicine. 

The UW team advocates this kind of broad, community-based testing for the whole country in the future, in order to detect future outbreaks and act on them earlier. 

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.