Over the past year, COVID-19 testing has become synonymous with discussions surrounding the virus. As cities and states begin to loosen restrictions around social distancing, it may be easy to think that COVID-19 testing will soon be unnecessary. However, this is not the case. Moving forward, there are many reasons an individual may need a COVID-19 test, such as to attend school, have certain medical procedures, travel abroad, or just have the peace of mind that comes with knowing your symptoms are not COVID-19 related.
If you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or start exhibiting any of the common symptoms, you may want or need to get tested. But before registering for a COVID-19 test, you may want to understand what you’re signing up for. There are several options for COVID-19 tests. Some are better-known for their quick turnaround time, while others are best known for the high degree of accuracy they provide.
But one particular test, the PCR COVID-19 test, is considered to be the “gold standard” of COVID-19 tests. It is commonly preferred by medical practitioners due to its high level of accuracy and reliability, even among samples with low levels of the virus. This article will discuss what the PCR COVID test is, how it works, and provide important details about the accuracy of this reliable test.
There are a lot of acronyms used in the medical field, and it can feel overwhelming to try to unpack it all. If you’re wondering “what does the PCR test stand for,” you’re not alone. PCR stands for a technique called “polymerase chain reaction.” In the case of the PCR COVID-19 test, it refers to the process of detecting RNA, or ribonucleic acid, in individuals. With COVID-19, this RNA is a genetic material called SARS-CoV-2.
During PCR testing, special substances are added to a genetic sample in a lab. These substances work by producing a chain reaction and making copies if a virus is present in the genetic sample. Essentially, if SARS-CoV-2 genetic material is present in the sample then many copies will be made. Learn more about the testing process further in this article.
The purpose of COVID19 PCR tests is to identify individuals who are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and identify them as having COVID-19. The PCR test is considered to be a test in time, which means it can only identify if an individual is infected at the moment the test sample is taken. A person could become infected minutes or hours after their sample was taken.
With that said, the PCR COVID test is able to detect minute amounts of the virus, so it may still be able to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 even after an individual has recovered and is no longer contagious.However, an individual who has very recently become infected with COVID-19 may not test positive immediately since it can take time for the viral load to increase to a point where the PCR test can register the presence of the virus.
The PCR test is considered to be the “gold standard” test for COVID-19 because of how accurate and reliable it is. Because of this, the PCR test is often preferred by medical professionals when it comes to diagnosing COVID-19 in patients.
For the individual being tested, providing the test sample can take a few short minutes. However, the sample must then be sent to the lab for testing, which takes time. Although the industry has gotten quicker at PCR testing since the start of COVID-19, it can still take 12-48 hours to receive a response. Let’s break down the three important steps to a COVID-19 PCR Test.
During this step, the person being tested will need to provide a sample. Most frequently, the sample is taken by using a nose swab to collect material found in the nose. There are a couple of different types of nose swabs. These include nasal swabs that collect material in the nostril and nasopharyngeal swabs that collect material further up in the nasal cavity. Both types of swabs can be used for PCR testing, and it often depends upon what types of swabs are available at the testing site.
One question commonly asked is what it’s like to have a nose swab taken. For most people, having a nose swab may be uncomfortable—especially depending upon how deep the swab needs to be inserted. The good news is, the process only takes a few seconds and the discomfort should go away quickly.
In addition to nose swabs, a saliva sample can also be taken. Studies have shown that if taken properly, both mucus and saliva swabs can produce reliable test results.
After the sample is collected, it is sent to a lab for testing. When the lab receives it, they perform an extraction process. This process isolates genetic material from the sample swab.
After the genetic material is extracted, it can be tested. This is done in a PCR machine, which introduces enzymes such as reverse transcriptase (RT) or DNA polymerase to the sample. These enzymes react to the presence of genetic viral material, causing it to make millions of copies if the SARS-CoV-2 virus is present. In addition to causing this rapid reproduction, one of the chemicals used in the PCR machine produces a bright, fluorescent light upon detection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and the PCR machine’s software uses the presence of this light to interpret a positive test result. Because the PCR test amplifies existing SARS-CoV-2 in the sample, PCR testing can often return a positive result even with a low level of the virus.
Because PCR tests must be sent to a lab for processing, the PCR test results time is longer than some other types of COVID-19 tests. Depending upon the lab, the day of the week you’re tested, and how many tests the lab needs to run, most people can expect to receive PCR test results in 24 hours to 48 hours. Some labs may provide quicker turnarounds, too. At BioCollections, our average turnaround time is approximately 12 hours, though some tests may take longer depending upon when they are received.
Nobody likes waiting for test results, and fortunately many test results will return in two days or less. While waiting for your test results, the CDC recommends staying at home and monitoring your health to avoid potentially spreading the virus to others. While people with COVID-19 experience a wide range of symptoms, according to the CDC, the most common symptoms are fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and a new loss of taste or smell.
When you receive your results, it is important to understand what they mean—and don’t mean—about your diagnosis. Here are what positive and negative results mean when it comes to PCR testing.
A positive test result means you have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. If you have tested positive, you likely have COVID-19 and are probably contagious, even if you do not exhibit any symptoms.
If you test positive for COVID-19, the CDC recommends you stay at home and avoid public areas for at least 10 days after the first positive test, except to seek medical attention. Most people with mild cases can recover safely at home without medical care. However, if your symptoms worsen, you should contact your medical provider. Otherwise, get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.
If you receive a negative test result, it means you probably did not have COVID-19 at the time the test was taken. However, it is important to note that it’s possible to be infected with the virus but not have a high enough level of the virus in your body for it to be properly detected. This most often occurs if you recently became infected or have been infected for a week or more before getting tested.
Additionally, a negative test result means you tested negative at that moment. You can be exposed to COVID-19 in the minutes or hours after getting tested.
Another common question we hear is about the PCR COVID test accuracy. All COVID-19 tests have been cleared by the FDA for emergency use, so the typical process of rigorous testing and vetting simply hasn’t been completed. However, information on accuracy is becoming more common.
In short, PCR COVID-19 tests are considered the “gold standard” of COVID-19 tests because of how accurate and reliable they are. Because of how the PCR testing is performed, even mild cases are often detected.
One recent study found that PCR tests with mucus samples correctly diagnose COVID-19 in about 97% of cases. PCR test accuracy is best when testing for positive cases. In fact, the false positive rate should be close to zero. The miniscule amount of false positives with PCR testing are often due to lab contamination or other issues with how the test was performed.
False negatives can occur more frequently with PCR tests, but they most often occur when the test sample was taken too early after infection or a week or more after the infection started. One study indicated that false negatives may occur up to 20% of the time if testing occurs five days after symptom onset.
In general your COVID-19 test results should help provide you peace of mind. Seeking PCR testing will provide you with the most accurate results currently possible. If you have questions about your COVID-19 test results, you should speak with your medical provider to determine next steps.
With several different types of COVID-19 tests available, you may have questions about the PCR test and how it differs from other commonly available tests. While in the past, you may not have had the option to decide which type of test to take for COVID-19 detection, you may have the option moving forward now that more tests are available at more locations.
Otherwise known as the rapid test, antigen tests are common tests for the diagnosis of respiratory viruses like strep throat. But what is an antigen test meaning when it comes to COVID-19? Antigen tests involve taking a saliva or mucus sample to test for antigen proteins, which are molecules that exist on the surface of a virus, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Unlike PCR tests, antigen tests do not require specialized medical equipment and can be performed at a lab or doctor’s office relatively quickly, in about 15 to 30 minutes. These could be preferred for individuals who need a COVID-19 test result as soon as possible.
However, it is important to note that antigen tests are not as accurate as PCR tests. While positive results from Antigen tests are relatively accurate, there is a much higher rate of false negatives. The FDA recommends the use of the more accurate PCR test when treating individuals who have symptoms of COVID-19 to avoid the possible misdiagnosis and spread of COVID-19.
There are many reasons you may be seeking out a COVID-19 test. If you fear you may have been infected—even if you have been vaccinated—you may need to have a COVID-19 test. Additionally, you may need a negative COVID-19 test to travel, have certain medical procedures performed, and more. The fact of the matter is that COVID-19 testing is here to stay, so you will likely find yourself searching for phrases like “where to get a PCR test for travel near me” sometime in the future.
When it comes to PCR testing, BioCollections Worldwide provides high-quality, trusted services. BioCollections WorldWide has been developing accurate testing for diseases for more than 20 years. As soon as we saw the possibility of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreading, we began developing a test. Our labs can provide quality PCR test results you can trust in about 12 hours, giving you the results you need as quickly as possible.
BioCollections Worldwide has testing centers located in the following metropolitan areas:
Our locations and labs are dedicated to providing customer-oriented solutions to make this process as quick and easy as possible for you. No matter why you need a PCR COVID-19 test, we are here to help.