August 18, 2022

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New start-ups and existing testing companies alike are hoping that tech elements will set them...

New start-ups and existing testing companies alike are hoping that tech elements will set them apart from traditional at-home tests, and their products run the gamut from quick and easy app-based antigen tests you can order on Amazon to $474 molecular-testing setups you plug into your wall.

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I tried out four popular at-home tests: an On/Go antigen test from Intrivo, a BD Veritor antigen test from Becton, Dickinson and Co. and molecular tests from Cue Health and Detect, paying close attention to their accuracy, price, speed, privacy and ease of use.

With its saturated colors and illustrations in the flat art style made infamous by Facebook, the On/Go app lent a Silicon Valley sheen to the grim task of testing myself for a dangerous virus. Never did I expect to hear a coronavirus test described as “confidence boosting,” but that’s exactly what On/Go’s instructional video insisted. Meanwhile, the Cue Health app, which syncs to a small machine that uses electrochemistry to detect viral material in your sample, made me feel smart and science-y as I tapped around its sterile screens.

App-based testing has its pros and cons. Each of the products I tried came with an app that walked me through the steps of my tests. That made it tough to mess up or misinterpret my results. If I go to the doctor, it will be simple to remember which days I tested. On/Go even recorded my symptoms for easy reference. And I can show or share my results with an employer, event host or friend with the tap of a button.

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But every time a product digitizes your information, that information becomes hard to control. With the exception of Detect — which says it doesn’t collect data on its customers — all the companies gather data such as your email address and phone number that’s arguably unnecessary. Intrivo (which makes On/Go) can use your data for marketing, according to its privacy policy; Cue Health can share it with undisclosed third parties, and BD can do both. In that sense, a fully analog test would provide the same results with better privacy.

Here are the Help Desk’s recommendations for the best app-based at-home coronavirus tests for your needs.

Because Cue and Detect are molecular tests, they are more sensitive than the On/Go and BD Veritor antigen tests. That means it takes less viral material to make a test register as positive.

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In a study for Food and Drug Administration authorization, Cue’s accuracy — defined as the average of its percentage of correct negative and positive tests — was 98.25 percent, it says. Cue’s tests got the same results as lab-based PCR tests 97.8 percent of the time in a study by the Mayo Clinic. Detect says its tests get the same results as PCR tests 97.3 percent of the time.

Comparing the accuracy of tests is tricky, since different companies use different measures. On/Go said its tests are 95 percent accurate, while BD Veritor broke its results into the percentage of correct positive tests (84.6 percent) and correct negative tests (99.8 percent). If you opt for an antigen test and test negative, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking a second test a day or so after your first one to double check your results.

All four companies say they can reliably detect the omicron variant.

At $23.98, On/Go’s two-test pack at Walmart.com is the most affordable option. If you live in a city, it’s also the most accessible — the tests are available on the delivery app Gopuff, which usually takes about an hour to bring snacks, drinks and now coronavirus tests right to your door. The test is also available on Amazon, as well as some Walgreens and Kroger stores, according to the company’s website.

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BD Veritor is only a few dollars more, at around $35 at Amazon, CVS and Everlywell.

Detect’s Starter Kit, which includes the plug-in testing device and one coronavirus test, costs $75. It’s often sold out.

Cue, at $474 for the chargeable testing device and three coronavirus tests, is the most expensive option. The company offers a $49-a-month membership, which comes with 10 coronavirus tests, a discounted testing device ($149) and round-the-clock access to doctors via messaging and, occasionally, video, Cue Health CEO Ayub Khattak said.

If you’re pressed for time, On/Go is the best option. The test takes about 15 minutes to complete.

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BD Veritor took me about 25 minutes to complete. Cue’s took about 30 minutes, and Detect’s took an hour.

If you don’t want companies collecting data about you and your health, Detect appears to be the best option by far. It doesn’t collect or store any data on its coronavirus test customers, according to co-founders Eric Kauderer-Abrams and Owen Kaye-Kauderer. I made it all the way through my test without sharing information about myself or setting up an account. (It’s worth noting that Detect’s privacy policy leaves room for ad targeting and third-party data sharing. Detect spokeswoman Shawna Marino said coronavirus test customers would be alerted if data practices ever change.)

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Cue’s privacy policy says it shares data with “subcontractors, service providers, and other third parties.” It wouldn’t say whether any of those are marketers or advertisers, and it wouldn’t provide a list. Cue doesn’t sell your data to anyone, company spokesman Dan Bank said.

Of the four products I tried, On/Go and BD Veritor appear to collect the most data. On/Go asked for my height, weight and symptoms, though all were optional. BD Veritor required my home address, legal name and legal sex. When in doubt, remember it’s okay to use alternative names, one-time-only email addresses and burner phone numbers to protect your information, especially if you’re not testing for work or travel.

Intrivo, which makes On/Go, doesn’t share data with third parties, co-CEO Ron Gutman said, but its privacy policy says it can use your data to show you ads for Intrivo products, as well as offers from third parties.

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BD Veritor’s companion app, Scanwell, has a privacy policy with plenty of wiggle room for data sharing.

“The Scanwell privacy policy is broadly written to cover the sharing of data with third parties for advertising purposes in the event Scanwell has a legitimate need for such sharing,” BD spokeswoman Megan Trivelli said.

Scanwell is not currently sharing data from BD’s coronavirus tests for ad purposes and BD doesn’t sell your data, Trivelli said. BD would not share the names of the corporate third parties it shares your data with.

I had small hiccups with each product, but overall, I found all four tests easy to use with minimal fuss and plenty of direction along the way.

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Risk of complications from covid-19 goes up with age, so it’s important that any app-based coronavirus test prioritizes usability for older populations. While all four companies claimed their products are easy for people over 65 to use, Detect had the strongest support, with 92 percent of customers over age 65 who chose to take a post-purchase survey saying they’re likely to recommend the test to others.

Cue didn’t share any studies on usability information for older people.

As for antigen tests On/Go and BD Veritor, a report by nonprofit health organization ECRI ranked On/Go in the top tier of at-home antigen tests for usability. BD Veritor ranked in the bottom tier.

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All four tests require scanning a QR code, and some explain that step better than others. To scan a QR code, just open your camera app and point the camera at the tiny black-and-white square. If a link pops up, tap on it. In some cases, the testing app will open its own camera and ask you to scan.

If you’re planning an event and want to make sure your guests have recently tested negative for the coronavirus, On/Go has an easy tool that takes you through the whole process, complete with discounted tests that ship to your guests and real-time updates on who’s completed their tests. (Guests must opt to share their test results with the host.)

On the On/Go app’s home screen, tap the plus sign in the bottom middle, then select “2Gather Events.”

For verified test results for traveling

Both Detect and Cue offer proctored tests on a video call, which give you verified results and easy documentation for traveling. (Some countries, including the United States, require a recent negative test to fly into the country. In the United States, that test must be supervised in real time through an audio or visual connection if you conduct it at home, according to the CDC.)

Detect’s proctored tests cost $20 each. Cue’s require upgrading your subscription to its $89.99-a-month plan.

 

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