Chicago health officials working to make at-home rapid COVID tests free and accessible

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Tucked away behind the CVS front counter are home COVID tests. Priced at $23.99 a box, they are selling fast as a popular pre-Thanksgiving product.

"These are antigen tests, so when people have symptoms and they have a certain level of the virus, they'll test positive," said Dr. Nimmi Rajagopal, with Cook County Health Family & Community Medicine.

With results back in 15 minutes, doctors said the home rapid tests are great tools to determine if someone is contagious.

"So, if you are about to have Thanksgiving dinner, especially if you are unvaccinated, it is a good idea to test yourself on that day right before you gather with friends and family," said Dr. Jennifer Seo, medical director with the Chicago Department of Public Health.

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And if time allows, doctors advise people, especially the unvaccinated, to take a PCR test first, followed by the home test. While it takes a couple days for results, the PCR test remains the test required for traveling to certain countries.

"It's more sensitive, so that is better for screening of somebody not having symptoms," Dr. Rajagopal said.

Medical experts say if you have symptoms and are worried about being contagious, the home test is the one to take.

While other countries, like Britain and Germany, offer free tests for people to take home, the CDPH is working on making the tests free and accessible.

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"We've distributed home tests to community clinics and aldermanic offices to increase access across the city," Dr. Seo said.

If you have symptoms and your home test comes back negative, doctors want to remind people it could be the flu, which is also very contagious.

Cook County marked a grim milestone Wednesday as the medical examiner confirmed more the 12,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the 20 months since the first fatal case in the county.
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