How Good Are COVID Tests From the Government?

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How Good Are COVID Tests From the Government?

One of my favorite sites for information about COVID is found on ConsumerLab.com. Their Coronavirus Information Center is an evidence-based, science-based, and trustworthy source of information that I’ve recommended for years. Here’s what they say about the free COVID tests from the U.S. Government.

Here is how the home antigen tests compare according to ConsumerLab

There are several good home antigen tests that have been shown to correctly identify at least 90% of positive samples and 99% of negative samples:

  • Quidel QuickVue,
  • FlowFlex,
  • BinaxNow Self Test

There are others that fall below that mark:

  • iHealth,
  • CLINITEST,
  • BD Veritor,
  • On/Go,
  • AccessBio CareStart,
  • InteliSwab
One of the FREE TESTS being distributed by the Government is the iHealth test

ConsumerLab.com says:

iHealth COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Test is available over-the-counter and provides results within 15 minutes on a test cassette after applying drops of solution made from swirling a swab in solution in a test tube.

It has been shown to correctly identify 94.3% of positive samples and 98.1% of negative samples collected from people within seven days of symptom onset (FDA 2021).

An app is also available to upload results and create an “iHealth Pass,” although it is questionable if this is electronic pass would be accepted as proof of a negative test since the test is not witnessed by an independent party.

iHealth is also available for $13.98 plus shipping (for two tests) at ihealthlabs.com or for $17.98 on Amazon.

So, what home COVID tests does ConsumerLab.com recommend?

Among these tests, we have two Top Picks: QuickVue and Flowflex.

QuickVue was our original Top Pick as it appeared to be slightly better than the others at correctly identifying positive specimens, based on results submitted to the FDA by each brand before Omicron became the dominant variant.

More recent results using samples specifically from people infected with Omicron in Europe, showed that Flowflex was vastly better than other antigen tests (QuickVue was not included).

QuickVue costs $23.99 for two tests, the same as that for BinaxNow (although, at Walmart, you can get the BinaxNOW for less than QuickVue — just $19.88 for two tests).

Flowflex is less expensive, at $9.99 for a single test (and just $7.99 at Target).

Of the others, including iHealth, ConsumerLab.com writes:

iHealth picks up slightly more positives than Flowflex but also reports more false negatives than most of the tests — which can be a problem, particularly as most people taking tests are actually negative.

CLINITEST and BD Veritor pick up fewer positives than Flowflex and iHealth, but are very good at detecting negatives.

BD Veritor is also slightly more costly and requires an app (which does not work on all phones) to interpret the results.

On/Go has the distinction of reporting the most false negatives and is the most expensive test on Amazon, although it is also sold at half the price on Target under the name AccessBio CareStart.

InteliSwab is among the least expensive but is also the least accurate and only seems to be available online.

Ellume no longer seems to be on the market since it announced a massive recall in October, although it had appeared to be a very accurate test.

More detail on ConsumerLab’s Top Picks
  • Quidel QuickVue, one of our Top Picks, is an antigen test available over-the-counter and provides results within 15 minutes on a test strip that gets dipped in a small tube of solution. It has been shown to correctly identify 96.6% of positive samples and 99.3% of negative samples collected from people within five days of symptom onset (FDA). Like all antigen tests, positive results are most accurate within the first six days of symptoms; it includes two tests for serial testing. Samples can be self-collected by nasal swab (from individuals ages 14 and older or individuals ages 8 and older with swabs collected by an adult). Regarding the Omicron variant, Quidel has stated “While our studies are ongoing, the early data give us confidence that our American-made PCR and rapid antigen tests can detect COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant.” QuickVue is available for $23.99 (providing two tests) at CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, and other retail and online vendors.
  • Flowflex (from ACON Laboratories) is our other Top Pick among antigen tests. It is available over-the-counter and provides results within 15 minutes on a test cassette after applying drops of a solution made from swirling a swab in solution in a test tube. It has been shown to correctly identify 93% of positive samples and 100% of negative samples collected from people within seven days of symptom onset (FDA). Perhaps more importantly, a study in Europe using nasopharyngeal swabs from people infected with the Omicron variant showed that it was much better than other antigen tests at detecting Omicron, detecting 88.9% of those positive by PCR. (In the same study, Abbott Panbio (which is similar to Abbott BinaxNow) detected only 36.1% and Roche SD Biosensor detected only 22%; however, a limitation of the study is that samples were not fresh — they were diluted in transport medium in which they were frozen and then thawed, although it is impressive that Flowflex’s sensitivity was hardly diminished by this. Real-life testing on Omicron with Abbott BinaxNow has shown much better results for it). Flowflex is available for $9.99 (for one test) from CVS and just $7.99 at Target.
The Bottom Line

If you are looking for the greatest accuracy in using a home test for COVID, I’d recommend Flowflex (as low as $7.99 per test) with QuickVue pulling in at a close second (and costing more at about $24 for a box of two tests).


This blog was accurate as of the day of posting. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly evolves and the scientific community’s understanding of the novel coronavirus and the COVID vaccine develops, the information above may have changed since it was last updated. While I aim to keep all of my blogs on COVID and the COVID vaccine up to date, please visit online resources provided by the CDC, WHO, and your local public health department to stay informed on the latest news.

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2022. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

 

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