At-home COVID-19 tests could be game changer in fight against virus, researchers say

ATLANTA — Since the beginning of the pandemic, doctors and researchers said testing would be key to keeping COVID-19 under control or even eradicating it all together.

That is why companies are trying to make it even easier for you to get tested for the virus, by developing at-home test kits for COVID-19.

“It’s so necessary for people to have access for these tests,” said Georgia Tech research scientist Sarah Farmer.

She told Channel 2′s Matt Johnson that she knows the pros and cons of at-home COVID-19 tests better than most because it’s her job to test the tests.

“What we want to know: is a user at home going to be able to correctly conduct this test?” Farmer said.

For months, Georgia Tech researchers have been studying usability and accuracy of most home tests seeking FDA approval.

That includes the one from the Australian company Ellume. The U.S. just announced a $231 million deal with Ellume to buy 8.5 million tests by the end of the year.

“It’s the convenience, it’s the turnaround time. Hopefully there will be more widespread testing. People will maybe be able to test themselves more frequently,” Farmer said.

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The Ellume test is the first FDA-authorized home test that doesn’t require a doctor or a prescription.

Farmer told Johnson that getting the test’s results on a smartphone screen stood out.

“The results come up on your smartphone. So you’re not looking for your one line versus two lines. You’re just looking at your smartphone,” Farmer said.

The company said those results are reported to local health officials through an app you download.

The results are promised within 15 minutes and are said to be 95% accurate.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing. I would test once a week,” said Chuck Murray.

The Atlanta resident told Johnson that he is hopeful that a new focus on at-home COVID-19 testing will help detect asymptomatic cases.

“If everyone has access, it certainly would help with isolating positive cases and contact tracing. And I think hopping up the economy much quicker,” Murray said.

The Biden administration says it expects 100,000 tests to be shipped per month between February and July. The tests will cost $30 each and will be sold in stores.

White House officials say the price could drop when the company can build a factory in the U.S. to eventually produce 19 million tests per month.

“I think the more testing you can have the better it is,” said Dr. Chirag Patel with Wellstar Health Systems.

Patel said expanding testing is still critical while most of the country waits to be vaccinated.

“The more platforms, the more innovation around testing and the more access we have, the better decisions we’re going to be able to make with information,” Patel said.

For Farmer, the job of analyzing even more home tests being developed isn’t done yet.

“I hope that the pandemic is over soon, but I don’t think that, you know, COVID-19 is going to suddenly disappear,” Farmer said.