At-Home COVID Testing
What is at-home COVID testing?
- An at-home COVID-19 test is a rapid test that you do at home and get results within 15-30 minutes.
- When you use an at-home test, you collect your own sample from your nose or throat.
- When taking an at-home test, it’s important to carefully follow all instructions provided by the manufacturer.
- There are many related testing terms:
- Antigen tests: Tests that detect a specific viral antigen (part of the virus). Most at-home tests are antigen tests. Antigen tests can also be performed at clinics and other testing sites.
- Point-of-care tests: Tests performed by a trained individual at a site such as a public or private clinic, pharmacy, or school. These tests can be antigen or PCR tests.
- Rapid tests: Tests that produce results within 15-30 minutes. The sample is not sent to a lab to be processed. At-home tests are rapid tests. Rapid tests can also be done at clinics and other testing sites.
- Self-tests: Another term for at-home tests.
- At-home collection kits: Another type of COVID-19 test where you collect your own sample at home, but you send that sample to a lab for processing and get your results a few days later. See the section below for details on what at-home collection kits can be used for.
Where can I find at-home tests?
- You can order free tests for your household from the federal government, and they are delivered to your mailbox.
- You can find at-home tests in stores, pharmacies, and online.
- Health insurers are required to reimburse up to eight tests per month, per member. Check with your insurance provider for details.
When can I use an at-home test?
At-home COVID tests can be used:
- For testing because you have COVID symptoms, were a close contact, or someone in your home was exposed or has COVID symptoms
- For testing for work or school (some employers and schools may require a point-of-care test (PCR or antigen test)
- Before or after attending gatherings or parties
- After large events, such as festivals, conferences, faith-based services, or sports games
- After travel
At-home COVID tests cannot be used:
- To meet travel requirements
- For entry to establishments that require proof of vaccination
- For employers, schools, or events that require a point-of-care test PCR or antigen test
- To prove past infection. If you test positive with an at-home test, without a second, positive test result from a health care provider or community testing site, a positive at-home test result will not be referenced to identify a 90-day period of possible immunity. This means you are not exempt from quarantine if you have close contact with someone with COVID-19 less than 90 days after you tested positive with an at-home COVID-19 test. This also means you are not exempt from isolation if you test positive again within 90 days after you tested positive with an at-home COVID-19 test.
Your Test Results
I tested positive using an at-home test. What do I do?
- It’s likely you have COVID-19. Self-isolate and notify your close contacts.
- Report your positive test to Public Health Madison & Dane County to help Public Health better understand the level of COVID in our community. Please enter separate surveys for each individual who tested positive via a home test.
- Follow-up with a point-of-care test within 48 hours if possible. Although at-home COVID-19 tests are convenient and can provide quick results, a second test from a health care provider or at a community testing site is often necessary to confirm your test result. This is because collecting your own sample and performing the test at home can increase your chances of receiving an inaccurate result. It is especially important to get a confirmatory test if you need to prove later that you’ve already had COVID-19, such as for foreign travel.
I tested negative using an at-home test. I do not have symptoms, but I had close contact with someone with COVID-19. What do I do?
- You likely do not have COVID-19 at this time.
- If you are unvaccinated, continue to quarantine at home for 5 days after your last exposure and monitor for symptoms.
- If you develop symptoms, get a point-of-care test.
I tested negative using an at-home test, but I have symptoms of COVID-19. What do I do?
- It's possible you have COVID-19. Self-isolate at home.
- Follow-up with a point-of-care test within 48 hours. Although at-home COVID-19 tests are convenient and can provide quick results, a second test from a health care provider or at a community testing site is often necessary to confirm your test result. This is because collecting your own sample and performing the test at home can increase your chances of receiving an inaccurate result.
I tested negative using an at-home test. I do not have symptoms and I did not have close contact with someone who has COVID-19. What do I do?
- You likely do not have COVID-19 at this time. You do not need to isolate or quarantine or get another test.
- You cannot use an at-home test result for clearance for travel. You will need a point-of-care test for travel.
- At-home COVID testing is different than an at-home collection kit. At-home collection kits are another type of COVID-19 test where you collect your own sample at home, but you send that sample to a lab for processing and get your results a few days later.
- In order for an at-home collection test to be used for official public health decisions, the sample collection must be supervised by a health care provider (for example, over a video call). At-home collection with sample collection not supervised by a health care provider cannot be used for official public health decisions.
- The State of Wisconsin and Vault Medical Services have teamed up to provide at-home collection kits to everyone who lives in Wisconsin, at no cost. Sample collection is supervised over a video call by a health care professional, and therefore can be used to inform official public health decisions.