The COVID-19 coronavirus continues to be a threat, and it’s even evolving into new forms like the Delta variant. That means it’s still important to get COVID-19 testing if you ever think you’ve been exposed to the virus!
So, what does COVID-19 testing entail, and what sort of options do you have? Let’s take a look at how it works.
What You Should Know About COVID-19 Testing
I. Two Types of Tests
Probably the most important thing to understand is that there are two different types of COVID-19 tests, with different timeframes and accuracy rates.
The more thorough test is called the PCR test. These are calibrated to detect pieces of the virus’s genetic material, which is foreign to the human body. The PCR test can detect active infections, as well as also recognizing if the patient has had COVID-19 in the past. This can occasionally cause issues since it’s possible for someone who was previously exposed to COVID-19 to come back with a positive result, even if the disease has run its course.
However, PCR is still quite accurate, especially when it comes to negative results.
The primary downside to PCR is that it almost always requires the patient’s sample to be sent off to a lab for testing. This means that getting results back can take a few days, at a minimum, and as much as a few weeks if the particular lab has a lot of tests to run.
Otherwise, the other alternative is an antigen test, otherwise known as the “rapid” COVID-19 test. The antigen test looks for antibodies in a patient’s blood which indicates their body is fighting off the coronavirus. Antigen tests can usually be conducted on-site at the testing facility, with results usually only taking an hour or two. This makes it a popular alternative.
Unfortunately, the antigen test is less reliable than the PCR test. If someone gets an antigen test, it’s usually recommended that they do so twice, about a week apart, to improve the accuracy of the results.
II. The Types of Samples Taken
All COVID-19 tests require a fluid sample from the person being tested. There are four possible sources for the sample that may be used:
- Throat, or
- Nasopharyngeal, deep inside the nose
Of the four, a nasopharyngeal sample will give the most accurate results. However, retrieving the sample is fairly uncomfortable, and requires a medical professional to obtain properly. So it’s more common to take a swab from the mouth, nose, or throat unless the medical provider sees a good reason for nasopharyngeal testing.
III. Home vs In-Clinic Testing
If you want a COVID-19 test, you have the option to either go to a clinic or obtain a home testing kit. Home test kits have been approved by the FDA, and basically, just require you to swab your own cheek or nose, then mail off the swab.
These home tests always use PCR testing, so you’ll be waiting around for the sample to be tested.
Unfortunately, home tests also tend to be less reliable than in-clinic tests, because it’s easier for the swab sample to become tainted. The long travel time to the lab can also decrease accuracy.
So we tend to recommend people contact their nearest urgent care clinic for professional testing, if possible. However, home tests can work, if you feel it’s unsafe for you to leave your home.
IV. When to Get a COVID-19 Test
If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the time to get tested is immediately. If symptoms are present, that means the disease will be detectable, if you do have COVID-19.
Otherwise, if you believe you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus but are not showing symptoms, wait about a week before getting tested. COVID-19 takes a while to incubate, so it won’t show up on tests immediately after exposure.
V. Who Should Get Tested?
This is pretty common sense. If you’re having severe flu-like symptoms, or COVID-specific symptoms such as losing your sense of smell or taste, get tested immediately.
If you know you’ve come into contact with someone who is known to have been infected with COVID-19, you also need to be tested – just wait a week, as mentioned above. In this case, “contact” means being within 6 feet of the person for more than a few minutes. Or else coming into direct contact with them for any length of time.
Otherwise, your health provider might suggest a test depending on your specific situation.
Advanced Urgent Care of Pasadena Offers Fast, Affordable COVID-19 Testing
We want everyone in Pasadena to have easy access to reliable COVID-19 testing! If you think you need a test, don’t delay. Contact us and we’ll talk you through the process of getting tested.