I tried one Dozen home Covid tests in the past year. If it’s on the shelf in a drugstore, pharmacy, or grocery store, I’ve probably used it multiple times. But when I open a test like BinaxNow or QuickVue, I still reach for the manual, mostly for fear of screwing up a crucial step. It’s been a constant reminder of why I prefer Cue Health’s Cue Reader diagnostic tool to any other home test. It is free of tubes, solutions, cassettes and test strips.
I wasn’t always a fan of this Covid-19 test kit. Last year, I first recommended it to others because of its incredible starting price of $444, which has since dropped to $394 (and is still expensive). It felt easy not correct during a pandemic, when millions of people lost jobs and cut spending due to the unpredictable times. It was far wiser to only spend about $25 on an at-home test (half of which was covered by insurance) and get eight free tests a month. In addition, there was always the possibility to take a free Covid test at a local test location.
However, the Biden administration has suspended its free at-home Covid testing program due to a lack of funding from Congress. Federal funding for free Covid testing sites and partial insurance for home testing (alongside free vaccines and medicines) is also being phased out. This could mean that topping up your stash at home could get more expensive over the next few months. Suddenly, investing in a cue reader doesn’t feel so outlandish.
A compact and fast machine
Cue Health’s home test focuses on a small central hub called the Cue Reader, which can detect a virus’s genetic material. Known as a molecular test, it is typically more accurate than an antigen (also known as a rapid test) and comparable to a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, with the ability to identify small traces of SARS-CoV-2 sooner – possibly even a day or two before you start feeling any symptoms. This can be crucial when trying to prevent the spread of the virus. Cue says his test has an accuracy rate of 97.8 percent (just behind the disposable Lucira home molecular test, which the company claims is 98 percent accurate). According to this independent study, Cue’s at-home molecular test also demonstrated 99.4% accuracy compared to laboratory-based PCR tests.
The cue reader is compact and doesn’t look ugly. I keep it on my desk, but I can also see it lying on an entryway table or kitchen counter. It’s also easy to travel with. I threw it in my luggage when I went to California last summer, but I also keep it in my travel bag when I go home to visit my parents. It’s rechargeable so you don’t have to worry about replacing batteries (I just leave it plugged in at my desk).
What I love most about this system is actually taking the test – something I never thought I would say. Yes, you still have to dab your nostrils, but the rest is so damn easy and doesn’t feel like a science experiment. There are no tubes with solution. Instead, the cue reader handles everything. It works via Bluetooth, so you’ll need a smartphone to use the reader, but it’s easy to set up. Download the app, create an account and pair the cue reader with your phone. When you’re ready to take a test, open the app to see a walkthrough of each step. There are so few steps it’s easy to remember – no instruction manual needed.
The reader comes with a couple of cartridges and exactly as you would push it Super Mario world into the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, you must first insert one of these cartridges into the reader and wait for it to warm up. Once the app says the cartridge is ready, dab your nose with the included wand and insert it into the cartridge. That’s it! After 20 minutes you can review your results on your phone and email or SMS the results as a PDF if required. Cleanup is also a breeze, although perhaps as wasteful as other home kits – remove the cartridge from the reader and throw it away.
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