As coronavirus infections surge in B.C. due to the spread of the Omicron variant, many people are stocking up on at-home testing kits to avoid long lines at clinics.
But public health professionals say self-testing shouldn't be used as an absolute metric of wellness—particularly because the process may not always provide accurate results.
B.C.'s top doctor has spoken at length about how mild an Omicron infection may be for some individuals; some of them may even test negative for COVID-19 despite having the virus. And people with mild infections aren't typically given a PCR test at a clinic due to the province's triage protocol: older people and high-risk populations are given priority.
While the rapid antigen self-testing kits that people receive at clinics are Health Canada approved, there are still several things to keep in mind about the testing process.
A negative result does not mean you do not have COVID-19
Above all, you should not continue your regular activities if you have symptoms of COVID-19—even if you test negative on a rapid test. It is still possible that you have the virus.
Self-isolate until your symptoms improve and you feel well enough to return to regular activities.
Using an at-home testing kit
The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) recommends that you prepare for your COVID-19 rapid antigen test by thoroughly reading the instructions. You'll want to check the expiration date but some rapid antigen tests have had these dates extended with Health Canada approval.
Most rapid antigen tests share a similar testing process that can be broken down into five categories: preparation, getting the tube ready, collecting the sample, performing the test, and getting the results.
While the COVID-19 tests vary from brand to brand, most of the test instructions state that you must not have a nose bleed and should blow your nose before you conduct the test. Next, you will wash your hands and gather the equipment (which will typically include a sterile swab, testing tube, a timer, etc).
Getting the tube ready
When it comes to preparing the test tube, this step varies from test to test. Some testing requires you to put some liquid into the tube, while others do not.
Tips on collecting the sample
After you have the tube set up, you'll take the swab out of its packaging, tilt your head back, and place it gently against the inside of your nose to sample nasal fluid.
If you've been tested professionally before, you might think the swab should go up. Do not do this. According to the BCCDC, most tests require you to "insert the cotton end of the swab straight back (not up) into one nostril for 2.5 cm or when you meet resistance." You should turn the swab five times and repeat on the other nostril.
Performing the test
Finally, you'll place the cotton swab in the test tube and follow the instructions of your kit to obtain the result. This may involve plunging the swab up and down in the liquid for 15 seconds or swirling the swab gently in the liquid and then squeezing the swab with the sides of the tube 10-15 times. Follow the instructions as per your kit.
Getting your result
Don't forget to time your result. Each testing kit has a specific window for the amount of time it takes to process. For example, many tests that will provide a result after 15 minutes state that "readings after 20 minutes may not be accurate."
- Find out how to use many common rapid antigen tests with the BCCDC.
- Find out what to do if you test positive for a COVID-19 test.
Other COVID considerations
The BCCDC reminds the public that COVID-19 tests are available at testing centres and that they can use the collection centre finder to find one near them.
The Better Business Bureau also warns that consumers should exercise caution when purchasing at-home testing kits versus getting them through an authorized site.
"Be sure to do your research first," cautions the BBB, noting that people will want to ensure that the companies are authorized to sell medical devices in Canada by searching the medical devices establishment licence listing on the Government Canada website.
You should also verify the brand or manufacturer of the test kits is approved by Health Canada by browsing the list of authorized testing devices.
If you are asymptomatic and require testing for reasons such as travel or employment, you must visit a private testing clinic where prices may vary. Visit the BCCDC website to find an authorized clinic for private testing.
Have a look at an instructional video: