FDA allows 1st rapid virus test that gives results at home

WASHINGTON – U.S. regulators on Tuesday allowed emergency use of the first rapid coronavirus test that can be performed entirely at home and delivers results in 30 minutes.

The announcement by the Food and Drug Administration represents an important step in U.S. efforts to expand testing options for COVID-19 beyond health care facilities and testing sites. However, the test will require a prescription, likely limiting its initial use.

The FDA granted emergency authorization to the single-use test kit from Lucira Health, a California test developer.

The company's test allows users to swab themselves to collect a nasal sample. The sample is then swirled in a vial of laboratory solution that plugs into a portable device. Results are displayed as lights labeled positive or negative.

To date, the FDA has authorized nearly 300 tests for coronavirus. The vast majority require a nasal swab performed by a health professional and must be processed at laboratories using high-tech equipment. A handful of tests allow people to collect their own sample at home — a nasal swab or saliva — that’s then shipped to a lab, which usually means waiting days for results.

Health experts have called for options to allow people to test themselves at home, reducing turnaround times and the potential spread of the virus to others, including health care workers. Rapid test results are critical to quickly quarantining those who are infected and tracing their contacts. But for months, U.S. testing has been plagued by slow results due to bottlenecks at testing laboratories. There are other rapid tests but most require a small, special machine operated by a health professional to deliver results.

"Now, more Americans who may have COVID-19 will be able to take immediate action, based on their results, to protect themselves and those around them,” Dr. Jeff Shuren, director of the FDA's devices center, said in a statement.

Lucira said it expects the test to cost $50 and to be available nationwide by next spring.