Whether it’s your first COVID-19 test or just your most recent, every person wants to know about the types of COVID-19 testing available, which test they should get, and increasingly, whether they can and should do a COVID-19 test at home.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic came to the shores of the US in early 2020, the CDC reports that over 463 million tests for the virus have been administered. With just over 331 million people counted in the 2020 Census, it’s obvious that some people have been tested multiple times, while others may just now be finding it necessary to get their first COVID-19 test. In June 2021, over 640,000 COVID-19 tests were still being administered on average each week.
We’ve talked a lot about Zoom fatigue during the pandemic, but how about COVID-19 test fatigue? For some, the nasal swab is an unpleasant and invasive procedure. Are there alternative types of COVID-19 tests, and if so, are they as effective? We’re here to answer all your questions about the different types of Covid tests. We have done the research about which ones are most accurate, what kinds you can do from home, and where to source the most reliable COVID-19 test results to get the information you need and get on with your life.
If you or your doctor believe you have an active case of COVID-19, there are two main types of tests available to confirm this diagnosis. These are molecular tests and antigen tests.
The more sensitive and accurate COVID-19 test is a molecular test, also called a PCR test. PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction. What does that mean? Well, it basically tells us how the test works.
A PCR test analyzes a sample of your saliva or mucus to see if the genetic material of COVID-19 is in your body. Unlike human cells which contain DNA, a virus only contains RNA. RNA is a single strand, as opposed to the double-helix strands of DNA. COVID-19 RNA includes different sugars and amino acids than human DNA. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) that happens during a PCR COVID-19 test amplifies any potential COVID-19 RNA that is present in your system so it can be detected. This means even if you have a low level of the virus, it is likely to be detected by a PCR COVID-19 test.
Though we have gotten more efficient at PCR testing since the start of COVID-19these tests still take hours or even days to yield results, depending on the lab, the day of the week you are tested, the available staff, and other factors. Even if you get the newly-approved rapid PCR Covid test, you should expect to receive your results within a minimum of 12-24 hours. BioCollections is proud to provide reliable COVID-19 PCR test results in an average of 12 hours.
Antigen tests are the type of test that you have heard called a “rapid COVID-19 test.” An antigen test for Covid 19 works by detecting one or more proteins that are left behind by the virus particles. These proteins are part of what triggers the immune response from our bodies. Any foreign protein or toxin that induces an immune response in a human is called an “antigen.” So, now you know how this test got its name too!
Antigen tests also work by analyzing a sample of your saliva or mucus to see if antigen proteins are present. One key difference of a PCR vs an antigen test is that an antigen test does not induce a reaction to amplify proteins that may be at below-detectable levels. That is why an antigen test does not take as long to yield results. Within an average of 20-30 minutes, you will have a test result.
If a person who is showing symptoms of COVID-19 receives a negative rapid antigen test result, a physician may still recommend a PCR test as a follow up to confirm the results. According to the CDC, one in five COVID-19 positive patients received a negative rapid test result.
Yes, research has shown that either type of sample is almost equally likely to provide an accurate test result. Healthline reports a review of 16 global studies which confirmed saliva-based COVID-19 testing provides accurate infection detection 83% of the time. Nasal swab tests are effective at detecting COVID-19 positivity 85% of the time. Saliva-based testing has also been 99% effective at detecting COVID-19 negative cases.
The difference between a COVID-19 swab test or saliva test and an antibody blood test is that an antibody test can’t tell you if you have COVID-19 right now. Antibodies are the specialized proteins your body creates to fight off any bacteria or viruses, including COVID-19. For each new threat that enters, your immune system creates a custom response. An antibody blood test confirms that you had COVID-19 in the past, because your body had to create the unique response.
In some cases, you may also receive or have the option for a vaccine antibody blood test. When you get one of the COVID-19 vaccines, it triggers an immune response in your body to create the antibody without you having to suffer through COVID-19 first. The reason that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have two doses is to introduce the response gradually and build up your immunity over time. Testing your blood will confirm that the immune response is working and that you are more protected against COVID-19 than before vaccination.
It’s important to understand that being vaccinated against COVID-19 won’t fully prevent you from getting it, or from transmitting it to others. However, it does come close, at least in the months directly following full immunization. According to Yale, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have shown to be 90% effective or more at preventing symptomatic infection in individuals who have not had COVID-19 previously. They are nearly 100% effective at preventing the development of severe symptoms in vaccinated individuals who still get COVID-19. But depending on your age and other risk factors, this effectiveness can be reduced.
COVID-19 vaccines prepare your antibodies in advance to fight off the virus so you won’t get as sick or even potentially die. And an antibody test lets you know this protection is still in effect. But as new variants and strains of COVID-19 emerge, the antibodies to fight them could be slightly different, meaning the vaccine won’t be as effective. This is the same reason we get a new flu shot each year—because the influenza virus mutates.
In short, even if you have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and have received a positive antibody test, if you start to develop symptoms it is important to get tested and take precautions to protect yourself and others while you are waiting for the results.
Yes, as of April 7, 2021, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given emergency use authorization to an at-home antibody test for COVID-19. The COVID-19 Self-Collected Antibody Test System, developed by Symbiotica Inc., works with a dried blood sample that is mailed to the company’s labs in California. Individuals as young as five years old can be tested for COVID-19 antibodies using the kit provided. If you intend to invest in the test, it’s best to wait at least three weeks after you received your vaccine or believe you recovered from COVID-19, because it may take that long for antibodies to be detectable in your system.
Yes, you can also collect a saliva or mucus sample for a COVID-19 PCR test at home and send it to a lab. There are many options on the market for these tests and you may even be able to pick one up at your local pharmacy. However, if you order a test online you may be able to have the expense billed to your health insurance. Healthline has completed a ranking of different available at-home COVID-19 tests which you may find useful.
If you believe you currently have COVID-19, it’s important to remember an at-home test will take significantly longer to yield results than visiting a local test center. Your kit may need to arrive in the mail, and then it will have to go back in the mail for the sample to arrive at the lab. For both at-home COVID-19 tests and COVID-19 antibody tests, there’s also a question of sample degradation. If your saliva, mucus, or blood sample gets too hot, waits in a shipping bay for too long, or experiences any other number of potential delays and environmental changes, you may not ultimately receive an accurate result.
If you complete an at-home antibody test or COVID-19 test, yet continue to develop or experience symptoms, take precautions like masking and social distancing, and visit with a doctor as soon as possible.
When you are tested for a current, active case of COVID-19, you are likely to receive your test results digitally. Whether you are being tested by your State’s Board of Health, your healthcare provider, a pharmacy, or through a private lab or at-home test, you will usually register through an app or portal where you will also receive the results. This not only protects your healthcare information and privacy but keeps the healthcare providers in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accessibility Act (HIPAA) guidelines. You may even receive a text notifying you when your results are available, or, if you have given consent, directly informing you of your results.
Many people also wonder how it will be reported to officials if they test positive for COVID-19. Under the CARES Act of 2020, all COVID-19 testing sites are required to report data for all diagnostic and screening testing completed within 24 hours. This includes molecular (PCR), antigen, and antibody testing for each individual tested. Reports are sent to the appropriate state, tribal, local, or territorial public health department based on the individual’s residence. Once the reports are received, your state or other regional Department of Health may follow up with you regarding quarantine guidelines and other public health procedures if you test positive.
However, beyond this mandatory reporting, the CDC instructs that “all aspects of case investigation and contact tracing must be voluntary, confidential, and culturally appropriate.” Even if you consent to contact tracing after you test positive for COVID-19, your name should never be revealed unless you have given consent, preferably in writing. Even when/if your results are reported to your employer, they may not reveal your name to other employees unless you have given official consent. This is true even if your employer required you to get a COVID-19 test.
A PCR test conducted in-person by a healthcare professional is which COVID test is most accurate. Having the sample collected and sent immediately to a lab through official channels protects against the sample degradation that can happen with an at-home PCR test. And, the mechanics behind the PCR test make it more likely that even a mild case of COVID-19 will be detected and can be addressed.
Here are some statistics compiled by international health nonprofit Cochrane about the reliability of COVID-19 tests:
Ultimately, the right COVID-19 test for you is the one that gives you peace of mind and confidence, along with the insights you need to keep yourself and others safe and healthy. While PCR tests are significantly more reliable than rapid antigen tests, you also deserve to work with a lab you can trust to follow instructions and respect your time to provide you reliable, fast results.
At BioCollections Worldwide, Inc., we have worked for over two decades performing rapid infectious disease testing through PCR and molecular tests, along with other essential testing for both doctors and private individuals. This meant when the time came to pivot and address the Coronavirus pandemic in our communities, we did not hesitate. We were the first lab testing for COVID-19 in the United States, and the first drive-through COVID-19 testing provider in our hometown of Miami, Florida. Not because it was easy, but because we knew it was worth it.
Since then we have expanded our on-demand COVID-19 PCR testing services to labs in California, Nevada, and Puerto Rico. We currently provide highly-reliable COVID-19 PCR test results directly to consumers and clients in 12 hours, because we believe your health should be in your hands. We can test one person who visits our center, or provide service to schools, healthcare facilities, and other organizations that want to make rapid, reliable COVID-19 testing available to their employees in our area. Plus, our test also includes results for types A & B of the flu. Because we don’t just want to help you learn if you have COVID-19, but also uncover the cause of your symptoms and help you get well.For vaccinated and unvaccinated consumers alike, BioCollections is here to share information, stand on the science, and help us all recover together. Contact us today if we can help you.