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So you did a rapid COVID-19 test and the results are positive. Now what?

As the new Omicron COVID-19 variant causes case numbers to surge, many Canadians are hoping self-test kits can help keep their families safe over the holidays. Also known as rapid antigen tests, these can easily be done at home and provide results in less than 20 minutes.

Taken soon before a gathering, experts say the tests can supply an added layer of confidence and protection – but unfortunately, they are not perfect. Self-test kits are less accurate than ones that get analyzed in a laboratory, and like any COVID-19 test, they are generally not effective until days after exposure. That means if you contracted COVID-19 at a holiday party on Saturday, a rapid test likely isn’t going to detect anything before Sunday dinner.

CTVNews.ca reviewed public health guidance from provincial agencies across the country, most of which only advise rapid antigen tests for asymptomatic people. If you take one and test positive, this is what they say you need to do next.

1. Get a laboratory test as soon as possible. These are the kinds of tests that are done at places like hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. Known as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, they are much more accurate than take-home rapid antigen tests.

2. Self-isolate until your lab results come in, even if you don’t have symptoms. If possible, also try to avoid public transportation on your way home from your second test.

3. Tell close contacts and household members, and advise them to self-isolate until your results arrive.

4. If the lab results are positive, your local public health agency will contact you with instructions and next steps, which usually involves at least 10 days of isolation. Household members and close contacts should also get tested.

It’s important to remember that rapid antigen tests are not a substitute for other COVID-19 precautions, such as vaccines, proper masking and hand-washing. Also make sure to only use Health Canada approved kits.

Rapid test availability varies by province and territory, and so do public health policies, which are also subject to change. For more information, see these resources on self-test kits from B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia.

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