Know the Difference Between COVID Tests

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There's no better time for a grifter than an emergency, and the coronavirus pandemic is the opportunity of the century. People all over the world are scared and trying to protect themselves; meanwhile, the American federal government is putting out mixed messages at best. For those who are trying to do the right thing, a new universe of at-home and DIY tests are springing up to tell you whether you're in danger. Before you get sucked into direct-to-consumer advertising, get to know what it is these companies are selling.

SFGate has put together a brief but thorough explainer on the different kinds of COVID-19 tests on the market right now. Before you pay for anything, you should be clear on what different kinds of tests are looking for. If you'd like to know whether you're infected with the novel coronavirus, you'll probably seek out a PCR test, hopefully in consultation with a medical professional. Unfortunately, while some brand-name tests (Roche, Cepheid, the CDC) provide greater-than-95 percent accuracy, the fastest tests, such as Abbott's ID NOW, have up to a 15 percent false positive rate. That's a big chance that you're told you're virus-free when you're actually a carrier.

A second kind of test is the antibody test. This doesn't show whether you're currently infected, but rather it shows if you've been infected in the past and developed immunity. So far, most available tests aren't returning accurate enough results to be widely reliable, although a test by Roche may be better than most. The most dangerous thing about over-the-counter testing may be a false sense of confidence that you're protected. Wait for news from public health officials on when it's safe to ease up on precautions. That's the best way to protect yourself and everyone around you.