I used a COVID-19 rapid test for the first time and it was surprisingly easy

Andrea holding up covid test
I tried Abbott’s BinaxNOW rapid antigen test. Andrea Michelson
  • I tested myself for COVID-19 from the comfort of my bedroom.
  • I had never taken a rapid test before, but the instructions were easy to follow.
  • Rapid antigen tests are convenient, but they’re not as sensitive as PCR tests.

I made it through 2020 and most of 2021 without taking a rapid COVID-19 test.
Andrea masked in park
I’ve been careful about masking up and socializing outside, so I haven’t had many COVID scares. Andrea Michelson
I got a couple PCR tests last year when I wanted to be sure I was healthy — after coming home from college to visit my family, for instance. I trusted the gold-standard test wouldn’t steer me wrong, especially if I quarantined before taking it.

Since then, rapid antigen tests have become more widespread. Antigen tests quickly scan for fragments of the virus’ genetic material, which is a good way to know if you’re infectious or not. But they don’t detect the virus with as much sensitivity as PCR tests, so there’s a greater chance of getting a false negative.

The convenience of getting a result in 15 minutes appealed to me, but I knew I would have to take it with a grain of salt. Experts say rapid tests are most helpful if used for frequent screening, like testing every three days.

I picked up a BinaxNow test from Walgreens to have on hand.
Rapid covid tests at walgreens
The Walgreens by me had plenty of rapid tests, but other drugstores have sold out. Andrea Michelson
A few weeks ago, I bought a BinaxNOW self-administered antigen test kit for $US23.99 ($AU32). Walgreens had plenty of the two-test packs, and I heard they were hard to find.

A colleague told me they were capped at one test kit when ordering online from Walgreens. Other pharmacies also limit how many tests you can buy due to high demand. CVS allows four tests per customer in stores, or six per purchase online.

I opened the test kit to find two swabs and one dropper.
Covid test open
I was skeptical of the tiny dropper at first. Andrea Michelson
I wondered how someone would make the tiny vial of reagent liquid — the juice that mixes with your sample to produce a result — last for two test cards, but soon found another dropper hiding in the box.

The test kit also came with two wrapped test cards, a fact sheet about antigen testing, and detailed instructions in both English and Spanish.

Following step one in the instructions, I washed my hands before getting started.

I unwrapped the test card and lay it on my desk.
Covid test kit instructions
The instructions included lots of diagrams and tips for minimizing human error. Andrea Michelson
Careful not to touch the test strip, I placed the card atop the instruction manual. 

I had a bit of trouble getting the card to lie open, but bending the spine back (as suggested in the instructions) did the trick.

I can see how the process has room for human error.
Covid test with reagent liquid
The bubbles worried me at first, but they subsided before I inserted the swab. Andrea Michelson
The next step was a little trickier. I had to drop some reagent liquid in the correct hole on the test card.

The instructions said to hold the bottle straight, not at an angle, and to make sure to get six drops in. A false negative can occur if there’s not enough liquid in the hole.

I tried my best to use enough of the solution, but the dropper spit out several air bubbles along with it. I added an extra drop for good measure, and there was not enough liquid left for a second test when I was done.

I swabbed myself while taking a selfie, which was harder than it looks.
Andrea swabbing self for home covid test
Swabbing my own nose was a bit unpleasant, but no worse than getting a test at a clinic. Andrea Michelson
Then came the dreaded swab. The kit was pretty well-designed for minimizing human error on this step: I removed the swab at the stick end, and inserted the soft tip into my nostril.

The instructions say to make at least five big circles per nostril, or swab for 15 seconds on each side. I counted to 15, eyes watering, and then repeated on the other side.

I inserted the swab into the test card, closed it, and waited.
Covid test swab in card
Turning the swab ensures that it’s coated in the reagent liquid. Andrea Michelson
I slid the snotty swab tip though the two holes in the test card as instructed. I’m glad the directions included a diagram for this step.

Before closing the card, I made sure to turn the swab to the right three times to mix my sample with the reagent drops.

I feel pretty confident I’m COVID-free after seeing my negative result.
Negative covid antigen test
The final product reminded me of a wrapped lollipop. Andrea Michelson
The test kit advertises results in 15 minutes, but I waited 25 just to be safe.

My test card was identical to the negative result diagram, with a single pink line where it said “control.” There wasn’t even a hint of a second line, which would indicate a positive result.

If I had reason to believe I was exposed to the coronavirus, I would take a couple more rapid tests this week to be sure I was negative. But given that I’m fully vaccinated and haven’t come into contact with any sick people to my knowledge, I feel good about my result.