Several different COVID tests are now available for purchase at retail pharmacies in Massachusetts and across the country; But experts stress that, as more self-diagnostic kits become commercially available, authorities should not abandon free large-scale testing at this late stage of the pandemic.

And while new rapid home testing products offer more options and results on demand, relaxing testing rates or deviating from existing testing protocols could hurt progress in the pandemic, experts warn, especially in low-income communities – which are also among the communities hardest hit by COVID – where residents may not be able to afford the over-the-counter tests that range in price from $ 25 to over $ 100 for a test.

The way forward continues to be rigorous and widespread free testing, experts say.

“I think an important part of the fight against the pandemic is making tests available to everyone,” said Mark Siedner, infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

U.S. regulators approved the first rapid home test for emergency use in December. Last week, CVS Pharmacy announced that three separate self-diagnostic tests would be available for purchase at select stores in several northeastern states, including Massachusetts.

COVID testing includes the Ellume COVID-19 Home Test, Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test, and the Pixel by Labcorp PCR Test Home Collection Kit. All three tests have received emergency use clearance, do not require a prescription, and can be used by symptomatic and asymptomatic customers, the pharmacy said. Testing is not covered by insurance and should not constitute a diagnosis of acute COVID infection.

The Ellume and Abbott BinaxNOW kits contain an antigen test, or a so-called rapid test that targets specific proteins on the surface of the coronavirus to provide results very quickly, but which may not always be accurate. The Labcorp test is a polymerase chain reaction test that targets viral RNA – the genetic material of the coronavirus – which is much more accurate due to its higher sensitivity.

A positive result from an antigen test suggests that the person is probably currently infected with the virus and therefore contagious. Experts say the antigens are faster and cheaper than molecular tests, which are more accurate and can detect whether a person has had COVID before, but is no longer infectious.

Experts hail the commercialization of COVID tests as a positive step in the pandemic, with the warning that test rates remain at levels that best capture the presence of infections in communities.

“The truth is, most of our diagnostic tests still require a lab” to process the test results, Siedner said. “But every test modality we can offer … is an advantage.”

And as more Americans receive the COVID vaccine, experts warn that vaccinations should not replace testing as an infection control strategy.

“Yes, the vaccines are there and the cases are fewer. But we can’t be blind to the virus and testing is our eyes, ”said Michael Mina, assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which is pushing for better technology. rapid test. “The more eyes, the better. Especially when it’s convenient and fast.

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