Though people across the world are receiving vaccines to prevent infection of the coronavirus, different types of COVID tests remain a critical, necessary part of the COVID narrative. And with variant strains seeing pockets of spread, many businesses and public events requiring negative tests, and a portion of the population foregoing or unable to receive a vaccine, the need for testing isn’t going away soon, if ever.
Informing yourself about different types of COVID-19 testing and how they work will help you navigate the future COVID landscape as testing requirements continue to evolve.
Diagnostic testing is done to determine whether a patient is currently infected with COVID, which is different from the commonly-known antibody testing which determines previous virus infection. Diagnostic testing is critical because it can help patients know in real time if they should quarantine and isolate themselves from others to prevent spread.
Testing sites use molecular and antigen tests to detect active COVID infections in patients. Molecular, or PCR, attempts to detect genetic material of the virus to determine if someone has been infected. Antigen testing detects particular proteins in the patient that indicate they are currently infected. Viruses replicate within a host, and both tests look for evidence of the replication process in cell data.
In the early months of the pandemic, understanding testing was difficult because different types of testing were being used and promoted, “false-positive” results were occurring, and some doubts were raised with the efficacy of the results because of different test types. But the breakdown is manageable when we understand how and why certain types of tests exist.
Molecular tests are different from antigen tests because they are looking for different pieces of evidence of the virus. Both molecular and antigen tests generally collect samples from the respiratory area through nasal or throat swab collection. Antigen tests are typically conducted through nasal collection, while saliva collection can be used for molecular testing. Once a sample is collected, the sample is tested at a laboratory or where the sample was collected.
Molecular tests require fairly complex and sensitive testing, so these samples are sent to a laboratory, taking longer than some antigen tests. Antigen tests have been authorized to be conducted at “point of care”, and that’s why these rapid tests could provide results within thirty minutes.
Antibody tests look for the presence of antibodies in a patient, which are proteins created by the body in response to the virus. These have been helpful to identify if a patient was previously infected with COVID, as antibodies start to form 1-3 weeks after infection. These tests are conducted by collecting a blood sample.
Symptoms are tell-tale to know if you should receive either type of diagnostic test, and your healthcare provider can prescribe you to be tested. Many public locations like CVS and Walgreens have been able to conduct tests, as well as common testing centers like Labcorp. At-home tests have been developed and are available to the public. But what you really want to look for is a testing center for an antibody test or a diagnostic test where they can provide comprehensive service: walking you through what tests are being conducted and why, and what the results say and what they mean for you. This can make a real difference in fighting the virus with informed patients.
You’ve likely heard about conflicting COVID testing results: false positives, false negatives, retesting, and other stories that make the process sound inconclusive. Much of that is a result of the nature of viral testing: like the scene of a crime, these tests look for pieces of evidence that can provide likely scenarios, but sometimes the evidence can only show likelihoods.
Retesting after a positive case: Patients can sometimes show positive results three months or more after recovering from symptoms of the virus. Doctors advise positive cases to quarantine for ten days after symptoms, but those patients can still receive positive test results. The rule is that, if you have not shown fever for three days, and have quarantined for ten, you are no longer contagious to others. If you are still showing symptoms after this period, you might consider retesting after a positive case.
COVID test result detected meaning: When you receive a COVID test, you will receive one of three evaluations: positive results (likely infected), negative results, or inconclusive (presumptive positive). Inconclusive means that you have tested positive for one of the two “targets” they look for and you also show symptoms, and doctors will recommend you quarantine at home as if you had tested positive.
Note, even when you receive a negative result for COVID, that’s not a guarantee that you aren’t infected; the incubation period can vary. And that’s the reality with a virus this new: results require nuanced, careful interpretation. Luckily, some testing providers are looking to provide the most informative, comprehensive testing for their patients, like BioCollections.
As a leading provider of vital pathogen sample collection worldwide, BioCollections has two decades of experience developing first-of-their-kind tests to find novel viruses and isolate them to help pharmaceutical companies produce therapies. Now, we’ve taken that expertise and made it available to the public with our rapid COVID-19 testing facilities, which are prepared to offer you fast turnarounds and peace of mind to travel and enjoy life.
Click here for information and hours at our many rapid COVID-19 testing sites located throughout the United States and around the world.