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FDA approves development of at-home COVID-19 test kits

As Americans wait for a COVID-19 vaccine so life can return to normal, scientists are working hard on a crucial test that could help reopen the economy.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The United States is on pins and needles awaiting a COVID-19 vaccine so things can return to normal, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved something else that could be crucial when it comes to reopening the economy: at-home coronavirus test kits. 

So, how would they work? Let's connect the dots. 

This week, the FDA gave the thumbs up to the at-home kits and several tests are already in the works. One from from Columbia University is a saliva-based test that takes about 30 minutes to process a result. Another, from the University of Colorado-Boulder, would take about 45 minutes. 

Both tests will require people to spit into a test tube, and based on how the saliva sample changes colors when mixed with testing agents, you know if you are positive. The University of Colorado test, for example, would change colors from pink to yellow for a positive result.

Researchers at UC-Boulder said because there are no swabs or need for a lab, these at-home tests are less vulnerable to backlogs and supply chain shortages.

“Every test that has been approved to date requires that the sample, even if it’s saliva, be processed in a clinical diagnostic lab or at a doctor’s office, using sophisticated equipment. That can take up to nine days right now,” said Professor Sara Sawyer, a virologist in the Department of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology who led the development of the test.

Experts hope these at-home coronavirus tests will be as easy and cheap to use as home pregnancy tests, but doctors and researchers agree a lot of work still needs to be done before they're on store shelves.

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