COVID Test (PCR) Self-test
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If you’re concerned you may have been exposed to or contracted the coronavirus, it’s important to get tested. Health authorities recommend getting tested for COVID-19 if you:
Are suffering from symptoms of COVID-19
Have come in contact with anyone that tested positive for the virus
Traveled to a destination on a no-travel list or an area with high infection rates
Were in close contact with a group of more than ten people
Need a test to return to work or school
Test results will simply tell you if you’re currently infected with the virus — not if you’ve had the virus in the past. If you test negative for the virus, you may need to be tested again in a few days, as false positives may happen in the first few days after infection occurs.
Types of COVID-19 Testing
There are two types of COVID-19 tests: rapid and PCR. The FDA approves both tests for emergency use; the rapid test provides results in less than 30 minutes, while the PCR test takes up to 72 hours to analyze results (depending on where the test is administered). It is important to note that the rapid test isn’t as accurate as the PCR test and may provide false negatives.
COVID Rapid Test Vs COVID PCR Test
The COVID-19 antigen test (rapid test) and COVID-19 PCR tests are two different tests. Both COVID tests will give you a definitive positive or negative result after a nasal swab is analyzed.
The rapid (antigen) test detects protein fragments that are specific to the Coronavirus. This test can be administered in a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital only. The turnaround time is, well rapid, and in some cases, you may have a result within 15 minutes.
Whereas, the PCR test detects RNA (genetic material) that is specific to the Coronavirus and can detect an infection within days, even if there are no symptoms present. The PCR test can be done at a clinic, hospital, from your car, or even in the comfort of your home. The turnaround time is a bit longer (typically three days), especially when the test is in high demand--it can take up to a week to see results.
Benefits of a COVID-19 PCR Test
Unlike the COVID-19 test, the antibody test simply tells you if you were previously infected with the virus.
Where Can I Get a COVID PCR Test?
If you’re interested in getting tested for COVID, there are plenty of testing locations to choose from. The most common sites include urgent care clinics, at-home urgent care providers, and your PCPs office. Or, if you’re like most of the world and would rather stay safe in the comfort of your own home, there are a handful of online companies that are now offering at-home COVID tests that can be delivered directly to your door.
Urgent Care Clinics
One of the most popular places to get a COVID PCD test is an urgent care clinic. These walk-in clinics often don’t require an appointment and offer same-day service. Some even provide timed appointments.
Simply walk into a clinic, sign in at the desk, and take a seat to wait for a doctor or nurse practitioner.
While these clinics can sometimes be convenient, they can also be somewhat unpredictable. You may end up waiting five minutes or five hours to see a healthcare professional — and since these clinics provide support for dozens (if not hundreds) of common urgent care conditions, you may also end up waiting with sicker patients (some that may be getting tested for COVID-19 because they’ve been exposed to the virus within the last ten days).
Primary Care Physician’s Office
Of course, you can always head to your own primary healthcare provider’s or primary care physician’s office to get a COVID PCR test. Simply call the receptionist to find out if the test is available or to make an appointment.
Local pharmacies and drugstores are also offering PCR tests to determine if you’re infected with the virus.
At-Home Health Testing Kits
Companies like EverlyWell and LetsGetChecked currently offer their users access to the COVID-19 PCR test (different from the rapid and antibody tests) with a turnaround time of 3-5 days and only require a nasal swab to determine if you're infected.
Are At-home COVID Tests FDA-approved?
At-home COVID tests, like the PCR test from EverlyWell and LetsGetChecked, have received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. As far as accuracy is concerned--benchmarks for the accuracy of PCR testing have been set by the FDA and must exceed 95% at measurable concentrations. Both these companies have surpassed the accuracy benchmark with a 98% sensitivity rating.
What’s Measured by a COVID PCR Test?
This test is designed to test for the presence or absence of RNA from SARS-CoV-2, which causes the disease COVID-19.
How Do I Take an At-Home PCR COVID Test?
You will first want to order your kit online. It will be directly delivered to your doorstep within a matter of days. Then, you will collect your sample. This home test requires a gentle nasal swab (not one of those brain-tingling Q-tip pokes). It is important to mail in your sample the SAME day you collect it to ensure accuracy. Lastly, you will receive your results digitally within 2-7 days.
Please note that your sample will be rejected if:
The nasal swab isn’t in the provided tube
The tube isn’t sealed
The sample expires before the lab is able to process it
What happens if I have a positive result? Try your best not to fret. Most companies provide a free, telehealth consult to guide you through next steps.
Do I Still Need the Vaccine if I’ve Already had COVID-19?
Even if you’ve tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, most health professionals still recommend that you get vaccinated for COVID-19 when you’re eligible for the vaccine.
Healthcare providers don’t know how antibodies will affect your immunity long-term, and some data suggests you may not be immune to COVID at all. Experts also don’t know if or how antibodies for one strain of the virus will protect you against other strains of COVID.
Essentially, the virus is so new that it’s hard to predict how antibodies will protect us in the future — or if we’ll have immunity at all. The only way to guarantee a 94% effectiveness of immunity against COVID is to be vaccinated for the virus.