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You may have heard about a few different tests for COVID-19. Some provide faster results than others. Certain tests are used to find out about a past infection and some determine if you have a case currently. Here’s a breakdown of the main types of tests to help you understand your options.
Types of COVID-19 tests
If you have symptoms such as a fever or shortness of breath or have been in contact with someone with an active COVID-19 infection, you may benefit from testing. There are two types of COVID-19 tests — diagnostic and antibody:
A diagnostic (or viral) test tells you if you currently have COVID-19. This test typically uses a nasal or throat swab. There are a couple of diagnostic tests:
- Rapid diagnostic (or antigen) test: You can receive results from this fast test in one to three days. While a positive result is highly accurate, a negative result is not always reliable depending on many factors. It may be a good idea to check with a doctor if you have a negative result.
- Molecular tests (such as NAAT, RT-PCR and LAMP) are highly accurate tests. Results are usually available within four to seven days.
Results: A positive result means you have an active COVID-19 infection. It also means you should quarantine or isolate to protect others. A negative result means you probably ddid’t have COVID-19 at the time of testing but you should still take steps to protect yourself, and be sure to seek medical care if you have concerning symptoms.
An antibody (or serology) test might tell you if you had a COVID-19 infection in the past but cannot tell if you are currently sick (and does not provide proof of immunity). The test uses a finger stick or blood draw, and results are usually available within a week.
Antibody tests look for antibodies that are created by your immune system in response to the coronavirus. Your body makes antibodies to help fight infections and it may take days or weeks to develop them. Antibodies may stay in your blood for weeks after your recovery. Currently, researchers don’t know if the presence of antibodies means you’ll be immune to COVID-19 in the future, and if so, how long that immunity will last.
Results: A positive result means you have antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 and may have had a past infection. A negative result means you do not currently have antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
Why would I get tested for COVID-19?
There are many reasons you may decide to get a COVID-19 test. Your doctor or healthcare provider may recommend that you get one based on your symptoms or if you have had close contact with someone with COVID-19. Also, if testing is readily available in your community, you may decide to get a test as a precautionary measure before seeing family and friends.
Where can I get tested for COVID-19?
Some locations offer COVID-19 testing at a drive-through so you don’t have to leave your car. You may also be able to get tested at a local pharmacy, a doctor’s office (primary care physician or PCP), urgent care center, or hospital.
Visit your state or local health department’s website to look for the latest information on testing. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, it’s best to call your healthcare provider ahead of time or use telehealth as your first line of defense.
Screening versus testing for COVID-19
Do you know the difference? Screening means using questions about exposure and symptoms to determine your risk for COVID-19. Testing means a lab test such as a diagnostic test for current COVID-19 infection or an antibody test for past infection. You can have a COVID-19 screening through telehealth.
How telehealth can help
Amwell doctors can answer your questions, screen for COVID-19, assess and treat your symptoms, make personalized recommendations for isolation, or, if needed, refer you for testing or in-person care. Have a visit from home anytime 24/7.