Frequently Asked Questions about Testing

There are a few options for viral COVID-19 tests. The main two types of tests are PCR tests and rapid antigen tests:

PCR Test (NAAT is an alternative name)

  • Most accurate test currently available 
  • Typically administered by health providers at a clinic or pharmacy and analyzed in a laboratory
  • Results in typically in 24-72 hours

Rapid Antigen Test

  • Less accurate than PCR tests
  • Results in as little as 15 minutes when taken at home
  • Can be self-administered with an at-home testing kit, or taken at a testing site

There’s another kind of test known as an antibody test, which can help indicate whether you have had COVID-19 in the past. Antibody tests are used by scientists to better understand the virus, but they are not used to determine whether you currently have an infection.

Added January 20, 2022 

Regardless of vaccination status, you should get tested if you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or 5 days after close contact with someone with COVID-19.

PCR tests are the most accurate, but may take multiple days to get results, during which time you should behave as if you are positive. Rapid antigen tests are available for self-administration and can provide results within 15 minutes, so they are helpful to get faster results when feeling sick or as a precaution before gatherings. However, rapid tests are not as sensitive, making them more likely to show a false negative than the PCR test. This is particularly true within the first couple days of infection, when there is a lower amount of virus in your body. 

If symptoms are worsening—especially if you are older or have underlying medical conditions and are at risk for severe COVID-19—you should consult with your health provider regardless of test results. 

COVID-19 tests help us prevent the spread of the virus and can help reveal cases in asymptomatic people. If testing is scarce near you, take advantage of whatever testing options you have available. Testing should be used alongside our best tools to stop this pandemic—getting vaccinated, getting boosted, and wearing a mask in indoor public settings.

Additional Resource: The COVID-19 Viral Testing Tool is an interactive web tool designed to help both healthcare providers and individuals understand COVID-19 testing options.

Added January 20, 2022 

COVID-19 tests are often administered at clinics, pharmacies, health centers, and other community testing sites. To find testing options near you, including free testing options, search on the U.S. Health and Human Services testing site web page or visit your local health department’s website. 

Rapid at-home tests are also available at many pharmacies, retailers, community sites, and online. Tests typically cost about $10-12 for an individual test without insurance.  As of January 15, 2022, these tests are covered by health insurance, meaning that most people with health plans will be able to get up to eight (8) tests per month for free by using their insurance coverage or can get reimbursed for purchasing tests by submitting a claim to their insurer. 

If you don’t have health insurance, you may be able to access free at-home tests from local community sites. As of September 2, 2022, the U.S. government program to receive free tests via home delivery has ended.

Updated September 7, 2022 

Messaging Resources about Testing

Communications Tool: Building Bridges

Toolkit: COVID-19 Testing

Misinformation Alerts about Testing

Misleading video used to falsely claim COVID-19 vaccines are gene therapy

A website run by an economic forecaster is using a misleading video clip to falsely claim that a Bayer Pharmaceutical executive said that the COVID-19 vaccine is gene therapy. The clip originally began circulating in November but has resurfaced recently among vaccine opponents. In the video from last October, the executive speaks about technological innovations,

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