Science

At-Home Covid Test Use Has Surged, But Racial Disparities Persist, CDC Finds

Topline

While use of at-home rapid Covid tests nearly quadrupled from the delta wave of the pandemic to the omicron wave, demographic data shows racial and socioeconomic disparities in test usage mirror disparities in vaccine uptake, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published Thursday.

Key Facts

The study, which relied on self-reporting from an online survey, found use of rapid tests leapt from 5.7% among people with Covid-like symptoms during the delta variant’s predominance in August-December to 20.1% during the omicron-predominant period in December-March.

Use of at-home tests between September 13 and March 12 was reported by 5.9% of white respondents, 4.7% of Asian respondents, 4.5% of Hispanic or Latino respondents and 3.5% of Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander respondents, compared to just 2.8% of Black or African American respondents—mirroring the low vaccine uptake among Black Americans which has persisted despite Covid’s outsized impact on Black communities.

More highly educated adults were more likely to use at-home tests—with 8.4% of respondents with a postgraduate degree having used the tests compared to just 3.5% of respondents with a high school diploma or less.

Higher-income adults were also more likely to self-test—9.5% of people with an annual household income of over $150,000 said they’d used the tests, compared to 3.1% of people with an annual household income under $15,000.

At-home tests were most popular with New Englanders, with 9.6% of New England-based respondents reporting they’d used the tests, while residents of the Census Bureau’s West South Central Division—including Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas—were less enthused, with just 3.7% of respondents in that area reporting they’d used the tests.

Key Background

Use of at-home Covid tests has grown dramatically since the delta-predominant period in the latter half of 2021, with a significant bump in test usage among both symptomatic and non-symptomatic adults since the White House began offering free tests online January 18, the CDC reported. The main reasons respondents who used rapid at-home tests gave for using the tests included Covid exposure (39.4% of respondents), experiencing Covid symptoms (28.9%), not feeling well (28.6%) and wanting to visit family (17%), while, among respondents who underwent other types of testing, the main reasons given included wanting to travel (23.2%), Covid exposure (19.4%), work/school requirements (17.4%) and experiencing Covid symptoms (16.7%), indicating that at-home tests tend to be used to address health concerns, while other testing tends to be used to fulfill work or travel-related requirements.

Surprising Fact

Disparities in at-home test usage have broadly reflected disparities in vaccination coverage, with Black people among the most likely to be left out. According to a study published January 21 by the Journal of the American Medical Association, however, vaccine hesitancy decreased more quickly among Black people than among white people during 2021, a shift researchers attributed in part to an increasing belief that vaccination is needed to protect Black communities.The Biden Administration said its at-home test distribution program would take measures to make sure measures to prioritize households at highest social vulnerability and communities with high rates of Covid infections and deaths.

Big Number

1 billion. That’s how many at-home tests the Biden Administration has promised to distribute for free to the U.S. public.

Further Reading

“How Much Money Are At-Home Covid-19 Tests Bringing In?” (Forbes)

“Error Leaves Some People Unable To Order Covid Tests From White House’s New Website” (Forbes)


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