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Nation & World

FDA Approves Coronavirus Test That Can Be Administered At Home

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first test that people can use to test themselves at home for the coronavirus. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has details.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: The test is really easy and simple. Swab just inside each nostril and stir the sample into a little vial that snaps into a small plastic device. Within about 30 minutes, a light flashes either positive or negative. And Dr. Gary Procop at the Cleveland Clinic says it looks like it's very accurate.

GARY PROCOP: I think it's a pretty big deal. I mean, it's the first molecular test that was approved for home testing, so, you know, I think that's a big deal.

STEIN: Until now, the closest thing to a home test were kits that let people collect a sample at home, but they still have to drop it in the mail and wait to hear back from a lab. Most people still go to a doctor's office, hospital, clinic or maybe one of those drive-through testing sites.

PROCOP: When you see these long lines of folks that are, you know, sitting in line to be tested, this would be another option for folks that are - would like to be tested, who are symptomatic, in the outpatient setting. So, you know, they don't have to be in those long lines.

STEIN: Other experts are also welcoming the new test, but they caution that it has some big drawbacks. The test still requires a prescription. And while it's probably only going to cost about $50, that's still too expensive to let people get tested over and over again quickly and cheaply at home.

MICHAEL MINA: This test is not a game-changer. I don't think so.

STEIN: Dr. Michael Mina is an infectious disease expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

MINA: It's a baby step of baby steps forward.

STEIN: A baby step because the test will only initially be available on a very limited basis at clinics in Florida and California and won't become more widely available until the spring. Even then, Mina says, it probably won't be available in the millions really needed to stop the virus from spreading.

Rob Stein, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATCHING FLIES' "WHEN THE SUN BURSTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.