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Getting a COVID-19 test

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What is a COVID-19 test?

A COVID-19 test is used to check if someone has the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 sickness. There are 2 main types of tests:

  1. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests
  2. Antigen tests

PCR tests

A PCR test is commonly performed by a healthcare professional. It’s considered as the ”gold standard” for detecting the virus.

A healthcare professional will collect a swab from your nose or some of your spit for analysis, which can take up to 3 days. They will then tell you if you have COVID-19 or not.

Rapid Antigen tests

An Antigen test can quickly tell if you have COVID-19 in just 15 to 30 minutes.

If the test says you have COVID-19, it is usually right. But sometimes, these tests may not detect the virus, especially if you don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms. A single negative antigen test result cannot rule out infection.

To be sure, FDA recommends:1

  • Test negative 2 times in a row if you have symptoms. Perform the tests 48 hours apart.
  • Test negative 3 times in a row if you don’t have symptoms. Perform the tests 48 hours apart.

These tests are also known as self-tests or at-home tests, and can be taken from home without needing to go to a specific testing location.

Where can I get a COVID-19 test?

Buy at-home self-tests (antigen)

You can buy at-home self-tests online or in pharmacies and retail stores. Some health insurance providers may reimburse you for the cost of purchasing these. See FDA’s list of authorized tests.1

Go to a testing location

Many pharmacies, grocery stores, urgent care centers, and other locations can provide PCR or antigen tests. They may provide low or no-cost testing, even if you don’t have insurance. Your local health department may also provide free PCR or antigen tests.

Your doctor or healthcare provider can also help find other testing options that may be available to you.

If you have a disability, you can get help with accessing a test or finding a testing location from the Disability Information and Access Line.

To find COVID-19 testing locations near you, visit ASPR’s test locator.1

When should I get tested?

You can test yourself for COVID-19 anytime. CDC recommends testing if:

  1. You have COVID-19 symptoms.1 You should test yourself right away.
  2. You don’t have symptoms, but were exposed to someone who was diagnosed with COVID-19. Wait at least 5 days before taking a test.
  3. You are going to an event or visiting someone vulnerable/at risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. Test as close to the time of event as possible (at least 1-2 days before) to help you decide on what to do to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to others.

Wrapping up

There are lots of COVID-19 testing options to choose from depending on your location and how you’d prefer to test. Speak to a healthcare professional to find out which test is best for you.

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  1. By accessing the links on this page, you will be directed to a third-party website that is not maintained by Ada or Pfizer. Ada and Pfizer make no representations that the information in this site is accurate or up to date.