JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As you search for at-home COVID-19 test kits, you may be worried about which brand you’ll be able to find and if one works better than another.

News4JAX consumer investigator Lauren Verno went inside UF Health Jacksonville’s lab to get answers from Laboratory Medical Director Dr. Matthew Feldhammer.

“If I’m at the store I see this brand, this brand, this brand does it really matter which one I’m grabbing?” Verno asked.

Feldhammer responded: “I wouldn’t be on the lookout for any specific brand, I’d be comfortable taking anyone that I can find.”

News4JAX consumer investigator Lauren Verno went inside UF Health Jacksonville’s lab to get answers from Laboratory Medical Director Dr. Matthew Feldhammer about at-home COVID-19 tests. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.)

Feldhammer explained that each at-home test authorized by the Food and Drug Administration will do the same job.

But that doesn’t mean each test is going to be the same once you open the box.

“The biggest difference is going to be in how the tests are performed,” he explained.

UF Health Jacksonville Laboratory Medical Director Dr. Matthew Feldhammer says that each at-home COVID-19 test approved by the FDA will do the same job. But that doesn’t mean each test is going to be the same once you open the box. Feldhammer says the biggest difference is how the tests are performed. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.)

There are more than 40 brands that are authorized by the FDA, and some brands include two test kits while others contain only one. So, if you’ve taken a certain brand of at-home test in the past, but you now have a different brand, you need to read the step-by-step instructions inside the box before you get started.

“Properly performing the test according to the manufacturer’s instructions is going to impact whether or not the test is accurate,” warned Feldhammer.

News4JAX consumer investigator Lauren Verno looks at the instructions for an at-home COVID-19 test. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4JAX – All rights reserved.)

As for when you should take an at-home test, it depends. For example, let’s say you know you’ve been exposed on a Sunday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that if you have no symptoms, wait five days after that known exposure and then test — so you would test on Friday.

Let’s say you have no idea if you been exposed or not, but you develop symptoms. If that happens, test that day or as soon as possible. If you have symptoms but your test is negative, wait at least 24 hours then take a second test.

“The detection window is going to be a lot smaller with the antigen tests. Because they’re a less sensitive method, really, it’s only good for when you have symptoms, so when you start to develop symptoms, is when the test is going to be most accurate to tell you whether or not you have COVID-19,” explained Feldhammer. “If the test comes up positive, you can be pretty certain that in fact you have COVID-19.”

If you still have any doubt, a PCR test like the ones processed in UF Health Jacksonville’s lab are still what Feldhammer calls the “gold standard.”

These sites in Jacksonville offer PCR testing. News4JAX has also compiled a list of COVID-19 testing sites, including some that offer PCR testing, in Northeast Florida.

Free at-home tests from the government

You can request four free at-home tests from the government to be delivered to your home at COVIDtests.gov.

Those who don’t have access to the internet can call 1-800-232-0233. The hotline is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to midnight.

You won’t be able to pick which brand of test you receive, but as Feldhammer said, they all work well if you follow the instructions.