CDC Slow the Spread of COVID-19

At-Home Testing

National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)Division of Viral Diseases

You and your healthcare provider might consider either an at-home collection kit or an at-home test if you have signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and if you can’t get tested by a healthcare provider.

At-home collection kits and tests are available either by prescription or over the counter in a pharmacy or retail store without a prescription. Currently available at-home tests look for current infection.

Collecting Specimens

Wash your hands, then follow the instructions included with the specimen collection or test kit for collecting your own nasal or saliva specimen.

  • For the best results, collect and handle the specimens according to the manufacturer’s  instructions. If you don’t collect the specimens as directed, your test results may be incorrect.

Some tests require a nasal specimen that can be collected using an anterior nasal swab or a nasal mid-turbinate swab. Other tests require a saliva specimen.

Once collected, send the specimen to a testing facility or use the specimen, as described in the manufacturer’s instructions, to complete the at-home test.

Performing the Test

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly and in the order specified. The manufacturer may also provide other resources, such as quick reference guides or instructional videos, to help you perform the test correctly.


  • Store all test components according to the manufacturer’s instructions until ready for use.
  • Don’t use expired tests or test components that are damaged or discolored.
  • Disinfect the countertop, table, or other surface where you will do the test.
  • Don’t open test devices or other test components until the testing process is about to occur.
  • Read and record test results only within the amount of time specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. A result read before or after the specified timeframe may not be correct.
  • Don’t reuse test devices or other components.

After you have the results, discard the specimen collection swab and test kit in the trash, disinfect all surfaces that the specimen may have touched, and wash your hands.

Reporting Results

Communicate your results to your healthcare provider, who is responsible for reporting your test results to the state health department. If the at-home test has an app that allows you to report your results to the state health department, inform your healthcare provider whether you used that app for results reporting.

If Your Test Is Negative

A negative test result means that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was not found in your specimen. If you took the test while you had symptoms and followed all instructions carefully, a negative result usually means your current illness is not COVID-19.

However, it is possible for a test to give a negative result in some people who have COVID-19 (that is, a false negative). You could also test negative if the sample was collected too early in your infection. In this case, you could test positive later during your illness. Discuss your symptoms and test results with your healthcare provider to determine if you need follow-up testing.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, especially if you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, you should quarantine according to CDC recommendations.

If Your Test Is Positive

Tell your healthcare provider about your positive test result and stay in contact with them during your illness. To avoid spreading the virus to others, follow CDC recommendations. See CDC’s guidance Isolate if You are Sick, which has information for a person who tests positive and has symptoms, and for a person who doesn’t have symptoms.

If Your Result Shows Invalid or Error

Sometimes the results are not clear or are inconclusive, and the test is unable to tell you if your results are positive or negative.

If the display on the at-home test shows an invalid result or a test error, the test did not work properly. If this happens, please refer to the instructions for use in the package insert and contact the manufacturer for assistance.

Invalid results can occur for many reasons. Your specimen may not have been collected correctly or the testing instrument may have malfunctioned. However, such invalid results should not happen often.

Regardless of what your test results are, you should always review the results with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will consider the test result together with your symptoms and possible exposure in deciding how to care for you.

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