The Ease of an At Home Test
Over the past several weeks we've seen the removal of several travel restrictions and warnings indicating that we may start to see a shift back to pre-pandemic norms. Several countries have removed or lowered requirements to enter, and just this week the CDC dropped cruises from its list of COVID travel health notices. That doesn't mean we've quite seen the end of COVID testing, however - although we're keeping our fingers crossed that the US will join its neighbors to the north and south and modify the test requirements. Currently, all cruise passengers must still present a negative COVID test prior to embarkation, and that can get a little tricky. Locally, here's what we ran into:
- Finding available rapid tests at a local pharmacy is VERY difficult
- PCR test appointments are available, but results can take 2-3 days to receive. Because you can't test more than 48 hours prior to embarkation, that could become problematic. I didn't like the idea of receiving the test results even within 24 hours because I didn't want to test, start an 8 hour drive to the port city, and THEN find out that I'm positive.
- You can try to set up an appointment at the port, but these appointments are not guaranteed. And again, I didn't love the idea of driving 8 hours only to risk testing positive and getting turned away at the port.
Fortunately, there is an easy alternative - proctored at-home test kits. The cruise lines each have a preferred company that they recommend (we're sailing on Royal Caribbean and they use Optum). You want to make sure that you order your tests in plenty of time in case there is a delay in shipping. My test kits had an expiration date of 2023, so it's ok to order them early and have them sit on a shelf until you're ready to use them. This is what the kits from Royal Caribbean's partner look like (please note that the following instructions are based on these kits):
What's important to note is that these are not the same as the free tests that the government sent out or that you can pick up at the local pharmacy. They MUST have the QR code on the front because they have to be monitored to qualify. Check your cruise documents carefully to make sure you know when you should test (it's usually no more than 2 days before boarding day). Then, when you're ready to test, download the app and set up your account. If you also need to test children, you can add their account to yours. HOWEVER, you will need to test them separately. A family can't test at the same time - each person must scan their QR code individually and be on their own camera with their own proctor.
Before testing, make sure to wash your hands and have your ID (driver's license or passport) with you.
When you're ready to test, you click "start testing" on the app. You can either connect with a proctor via your computer or through your phone. I had trouble getting my computer camera to connect, so I hung up and called back on my phone. The only thing I didn't love about using my phone is that they have to be able to see you and your test kit at all times, so I had to prop up my phone, but it wasn't too big a deal.
If you're familiar with conducting your own COVID tests, you can have them go through the "quick instructions". I've taken several due to travel requirements, so my test took me less than five minutes to complete. If you're not familiar with self-tests, however, they will walk you through all of the steps very thoroughly. They will also watch you take the test to make sure you are inserting the swab far enough up your nose, so you don't need to worry that you're not doing it correctly.
Once you've completed all the steps, they'll set a timer for 15 minutes and tell you to come back to read the results. You MUST leave your camera on and pointed at the test the whole time, so you won't be able to use your phone during this 15 minute window. A new proctor will come on when your time is up and help you read the results and certify your test. They will email you a PDF with your results and also add your results to your app. They say it can take up to 15 minutes, but I received my email immediately. As long as you're negative, you are all set when the cruise line asks for your COVID test results. (Please note that the steps for unvaccinated passengers are different).
A few other helpful tips:
- I mentioned cruise lines, but you can use these tests for International travel as well. As long as the US government continues to require a negative COVID test to return home, these are a great option if you are traveling to a destination that doesn't offer on-site testing, or you'd rather not have to track down a local pharmacy. This is the link to the site we used for the cruise, but there are other options as well: https://store.optum.com/shop/products/abbott-binaxNOW-COVID-19-ag-at-home-test-kit-2-pack. They recommend two tests per person in case you make a mistake testing, but it's pretty hard to mess up the tests. We purchased one test kit per person in our family, but some people do feel more comfortable having backups.
- Some FSA/HSA programs will reimburse you for the purchase of your tests, so it's definitely worth checking to see if your program will cover the cost.
- DO NOT OPEN YOUR TEST UNTIL YOU'RE READY TO TAKE IT. If you open it before they tell you to, it invalidates the whole thing.
- You do not make an appointment prior to taking your test - you just press the button when you're ready and enter the queue. I waited less than a minute (although I did test at 7:30am). The test center is available 24/7, so it doesn't matter where you are traveling or what time you need to test.
We're hopeful that very soon we won't have to share tips and tricks regarding testing or health forms or entry requirements for much longer, but we're always happy to share our experiences. Also, be sure to follow our Facebook page for first-hand reviews of the cruise itself, the islands we visit, and a special guest review or two (that I can guarantee will bring you a sassy perspective): www.facebook.com/bigcreektravel