Do you need a COVID test but you're not sure which one to get? There isn't one standard type of COVID-19 Test. Whether you are symptomatic, were exposed, or need a coronavirus test for another reason, take a look at what you need to know about your options.
What Is A PCR Test?
You've probably heard about this type of test for COVID, but maybe don't know exactly what it is or if it's the right option right now. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction. This type of test looks for the DNA or RNA of a virus (such as the coronavirus). Even though you must have the disease to get a positive result, the PCR test may provide you with answers well before other types of tests would. While other options require higher levels of viral particles for detection, a PCR COVID test does not. This means you don't need to wait until you've had days worth of symptoms to test positive. You can also take a PCR test after exposure or to provide an employer or venue with a verifiable negative result.
Not only can a PCR test provide you with early results during asymptomatic periods or the first stages of an active (symptomatic) infection, it is easy to use. The testing center or your medical provider will need a nasal swab or a saliva sample. After collecting the sample, a lab will conduct the test and return your results. The specific turnaround time depends on a few factors. These include your location, the number of tests taken at the same time, and the lab itself (the company's hours, staffing, and policies).
What Is A Rapid Test?
This type of test for coronavirus is also known as an antigen test. Like a PCR test, this option requires a nasal swab. But, as the name implies, this test gives you rapid results. You won't need to wait for your doctor or testing site to send a rapid test away to a lab. Instead, you will get the result almost immediately. Rapid antigen tests detect current infections. These are the types of COVID tests sold over the counter at pharmacies and online (also known commonly as self-tests or at-home tests).
Again, the PCR test is more sensitive and may detect an infection sooner than a rapid or at-home test. But this doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't take the antigen version. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can take an at-home or antigen test if you are symptomatic, if it's been five days since you've had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 (and one to two days after this test), or before going to an indoor event/gathering. If you continue to have symptoms after a negative antigen test or have other concerns, talk to your doctor about a follow-up PCR test.