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New federal recommendations for at-home Covid testing come from a study at UMass Chan Medical School

A vending machine containing COVID-19 antigen tests.
Jill Kaufman
A vending machine containing COVID-19 antigen tests.

A study from researchers at the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School in Worcester is the basis for new guidelines from the FDA regarding the use of at-home COVID-19 tests.

For people without symptoms but concerned they may have the virus, the study results show antigen tests are more likely to detect COVID-19 within the first week of infection with three tests at 48-hour intervals.

Apurv Soni is the study's lead researcher at UMass Chen Medical School.

“Four out of five cases that are infected detected that way,” Soni said. “If you are symptomatic today then you need to do two tests 48 hours apart and that results in 90 percent sensitivity.”

The data allowed researchers to more effectively compare antigen tests to molecular tests, Soni said.

More than 5,000 participants were part of the study that ran from October 2021 to February 2022, covering both the delta and omicron surges.

An earlier element of Soni's research with the CDC was to evaluate how people ordered tests online.

“Neighborhoods that are black and brown were just as likely to order tests as neighborhoods that are predominantly white,” Soni said.

Most health plans, including MassHealth, cover the cost of tests at pharmacies or reimburse the purchase. Since January 2022, the federal government has been distributing free tests through schools and community centers.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."