Nov 9, 2021 - Health

Cue Health unveils its at-home COVID-19 test

Photo: Courtesy of Cue

San Diego-based Cue Health, which went public in September and is best known for providing COVID-19 tests to Google, the Defense Department and the NBA, is now debuting a consumer version of its product, available for purchase on Nov. 15.

Why it matters: With experts predicting that the virus will be with us for at least a few years in some form, at-home testing is likely to become a growing need for many people.

Details: Cue Health’s system includes individually wrapped cartridge packs that also include a nasal swab, and a small square device that processes the test and connects to a mobile device via Bluetooth.

  • Everything has a white, simple design, reminiscent of Apple products.

Zooming in: Cue's test, authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is a type of nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), and the company says that its method has comparable accuracy to polymerase chain reaction tests (commonly called "PCR tests").

  • I took a test on Monday morning, which involved downloading the app, setting up my account, and swabbing my nose (the app has clear step-by-step instructions with helpful videos). I got my result in just under half an hour. The app also makes results easily printable in a format that includes full name, date of birth, and time the test was taken.
  • While customers will be able to purchase the reader and cartridges individually, the company is rolling out two subscription tiers ($49.99 and $89.99 per month) that include annual sets of test cartridges (and discounts on additional ones), free same- or next-day delivery, and a discount on the reader device. The reader will also be compatible with other tests that Cue has in its pipeline, such as the flu and sexually transmitted infections.
  • The pricier tier also includes test-proctoring with a health care provider so that the test can satisfy international travel requirements.

What they’re saying: "Right now in the marketplace there’s this narrative that you can either have accurate testing but it’s slow, or you can have fast tests but it’s less accurate," Cue Health co-founder and CEO Ayub Khattak tells Axios, adding that his company's aim is to provide both accuracy and speed.

Yes, but: Cue can get a bit pricey — the test reader alone is $249, with three-packs of test cartridges at $225.

  • Abbott’s BinaxNow and Quidel's QuickVue at-home antigen tests, for example, cost $23.99 for a two-pack, while the at-home test from LabCorp is $124.99, though the latter takes a day or two for results as it’s shipped to the company for processing. However, antigen tests are less sensitive than PCR-type tests, and at-home versions have been criticized for not being as accurate.

The bottom line: As we returned to a life that resembles “normal,” the demand for at-home tests will grow as people seek more convenient ways to check if a sore throat is a symptom of COVID-19, or just a simple sore throat.

  • While it varies widely across the country, getting a test at a clinic can still be a hassle and take several days.
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