As COVID-19 cases surge, more Americans are turning to at-home tests

In her loft in Atlanta's Little Five Points community,  Lucy Randle is getting ready for a post-trip ritual. She is taking an at-home COVID-19 test.

Working for a British medical device company, Randle flies around the country several times a month, raising her risk of exposure to the virus.

She is fully vaccinated, and typically tests herself four or five days after returning from each trip, trying to isolate at home until she gets her results.

Woman sits at a glass table in her loft apartment reading the instructions of an at-home COVID-19 test kit.

Lucy Randle of Atlanta takes an at-home rapid antigen test for COVID-19.

"I've done about five or six of them," she says.  "So, I do them after each trip that I go on.  It's not a requirement for my work, but I do it for peace of mind."

Randle typically uses an at-home rapid test from Abbott, known as the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test. It is one of three at-home COVID-19 tests authorized under an emergency use authorization by the FDA.

She says the test is similar to an at-home pregnancy test, only with a nasal swab.

"You open a card, you have a little bottle of reagent liquid that you drip into a hole in the top of the card," Randle says.  

Then, reading the instructions, she takes the test, which is authorized for people age 2 and older.

tight shot of a woman holding a nasal swab of an at-home COVID-19 test kit. She is reading the instructions on the table in front of her.

Lucy Randle of Atlanta takes an at-home rapid antigen test for COVID-19. (Eli Jordan FOX 5 Atlanta)

RELATED: Georgia man frustrated by those who won't get vaccinated after losing his wife, father to COVID-19

"It's the same test as you get at the drive-thru," she says.  "So, a cotton swab up your nose.  Swirl it around for 15 seconds in each nostril, and then insert the cotton swab into the card."

In about 15 minutes, she gets her results.

There is no drive-thru, no long line, no wait for answers. But, the test kits are becoming harder to find, as COVID-19 infections surge.

"I've had to drive around to a couple of different local pharmacies to be able to find one in stock," Randle says.  "A lot of places I went to say they've sold out."

That's exactly the problem at Little Five Points Pharmacy, where owner and pharmacist Ira Katz says they can't keep the test kits in stock because of the intense demand.

Now that the delta variant is driving up infections across the South, Katz says, customers are looking for the tests for many reasons.

RELATED: Nurse leaves behind 5 kids, including newborn, after dying of COVID-19

"With what's going on with the increase in kids testing positive, a lot of parents want to make sure they have it," Katz says. "They want to test a parent.  Someone is coming in from out out town.  Someone is going out of town.  It's all over the board."

The at-home tests, which typically sell for about $25 to $40, are not as sensitive as the PCR tests performed by medical personnel, and they work best for people who have COVID-19 symptoms.  

If you have an asymptomatic infection, or you do the test too soon after an exposure, you could get false negative result, indicating you do not have virus when you do.

Woman with long brown hair sits at a round glass table in her loft apartment, reading the instructions of an at-home COVID-19 test kit. She's holding the nasal swab in her hand.

Lucy Randle of Atlanta takes an at-home rapid antigen test for COVID-19.

RELATED: Inside a Georgia ER dealing with pressure, crowding, 'scared' patients

Randle says the at-home tests does not take the place of a PCR test, which she says she would get, if she tested positive on the at-home test.

"But, just for my own peace of mind, if I know I've not been in a situation knowingly at-risk, then it's just extra peace of mind because I've been in and out of airports, I've been on a plane, and I've been in Ubers," she says.

Katz says the tests are handy to have around, if you can find one.

If you're looking for it, you might have to make a few phone calls," he says.

The CDC says these self-tests can be used by anyone who is symptomatic, regardless of their vaccination status.  If you test positive, you should isolated and let your close contacts know.

WATCH: FOX 5 Atlanta live news coverage


Sign up for FOX 5 email alerts

Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.