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New at-home coronavirus test is just opening salvo for the massive testing needed, experts say

The first FDA-approved home sample collection kit is limited to frontline workers with a doctor's prescription, for now.

BETHESDA, Md. — A new Harvard report suggests America needs to test 20 million people a day before the country can think about safely reopening. We're nowhere near that yet.

But a Northern Virginia medical expert said a new at-home test kit could help us get closer. 

The first FDA-approved home sample collection kit comes from Labcorp costs $119 (hopefully paid by insurance), and is for now limited to frontline workers with a doctor's prescription.

"We're super excited to see at home testing be approved by the FDA," Dr. Shantanu Nundy, Chief Medical Officer of Accolade and a primary care doctor in Alexandria, said. "It's still in our mind a huge game-changer, because what that means is that for the vast majority of COVID-19 patients, we can manage the entire process from symptom detection to diagnosis and even treatment completely at home." 

The kit requires a swab of your nostrils, not the deep dive needed for older tests. Labcorp is hoping to offer the sample kits to a wider population of patients in the coming weeks, if it can get adequate supplies, and continue to whittle down its test turnaround time. Currently, it takes at least four to five days to get test results. 

President Trump has long claimed anyone who wants a coronavirus test can get one, but testing sites have seen long lines and plenty of disappointment. 

"I was very frustrated, and after I got off the phone with them I cried," Searcy Farrell said, after trying and failing to get tested.

The U.S. will have to scale up its testing ability by orders of magnitude to get anywhere near the volume many experts say is necessary.

Nundy agreed that at some point we're going to have to be testing vastly more people, including people with no symptoms, if we're going to get to a solution and really box this virus in. 

"As a doctor, as someone who works in the innovation community, we're always just thinking about how can we keep chipping away at this," he said. 

To get the home test, you need to have been exposed or have symptoms. And if it comes back positive, the company urges you to talk to your doctor about next steps.

Nundy -- who was a finalist for a McArthur innovation prize -- said American inventiveness is blowing up. Saliva tests, home self-tests, and antibody tests are all examples of advances U.S. companies are working on. Nundy thinks we're getting to a place where we can beat this virus and even change the whole health system to better care for all of us.

RELATED: Here's Gov. Larry Hogan's roadmap for reopening Maryland

RELATED: May 8 is the earliest Virginia can begin to reopen, says Gov. Northam

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