They’re cheap, fast and reliable. Why are at-home COVID-19 tests still not widely available?

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A vast majority of people would be willing to use at-home COVID-19 tests to fight the spread, but only if the price is right, according to a new study.

The authors of that report say the current regulatory climate is pricing the tests out of reach.

If a daily COVID-19 test costs $1, 79% of Americans say they would test themselves at home, according to a national survey by the COVID Collaborative and Harvard University.

However, the cheapest at-home test available is currently $25.

Harvard epidemiologist Michael Mina said about 80% of that $25 price tag is unnecessary.

“The FDA is requiring a test like the BinaxNOW to be a prescription test. No one should need a prescription at this point in the pandemic,” he said.

The technology already exists, and millions of tests could be made a day for a few dollars each. The tests are so simple, he added, that they could be used commercially — at the front door of a restaurant, at workplaces, entertainment venues, mass transit. The FDA is still sitting on the applications.

“Had we had these tests out toward the end of last summer, we could have potentially mitigated much of the devastation we have seen over the fall and winter,” Mina added.

The study also found many people worry about the accuracy of the tests, but Mina said not only are they reliable, but they are still the best tool to find people who are contagious, especially when they are not showing symptoms.

Health officials point to PCR testing to track the disease, but the CDC said there have been 324 million PCR tests since the start of the pandemic. Mina noted that’s less than one test per person.

While most of the pandemic-related attention is focused on the vaccine rollout, he believes now is the time to adopt better testing.

“We will see blips and outbreaks continue to occur. We’ll see schools continue to be nervous to open up, airports, all sorts of things will not go back to normal anytime soon. But these tests are a way to accelerate all of that.

“We can’t go through another year like this.”