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Rapid COVID-19 Testing Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: September 10, 2021

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What is a rapid COVID-19 test?

A rapid COVID-19 test, also called an antigen test, detects proteins from the virus which causes COVID-19. This type of test is considered most accurate in those individuals who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Rapid tests allow public health to detect disease sooner, decrease spread faster and start contact tracing earlier.

What is a PCR COVID-19 test?

A PCR test, also called a molecular test or polymerase chain reaction test, detects genetic material specific to the virus that causes COVID-19. PCR testing is considered the “gold standard” in COVID-19 detection and is often more accurate than a rapid test, especially in individuals without symptoms. The PCR COVID-19 test does take longer to get results which leads to delays in decreasing the spread of the virus.

How are specimens collected?

In both the rapid test and PCR test, specimens are collected using a nasal swab. A swab is inserted into each nostril, one side at a time, approximately one inch. The swab is then rotated around the inside of each nostril, approx five times, to gather mucous.

Who should get a COVID-19 test?

  • People without symptoms of COVID-19 such as:
      • People not fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine who have had close contact with someone with confirmed COVID-19 (including a person who does not have symptoms within 10 days of their positive test result).
      • People not fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine who have taken part in activities that put them at higher risk for COVID-19, such as attending large social or mass gatherings, or being in crowded indoor settings.
    • People not fully vaccinated with COVID-19 vaccine who have been asked or referred to get testing by their school, workplace, healthcare provider, or state or local health department.

How long will it take to get my results?

Rapid test results will be available the day of specimen collection. PCR test results typically take two to three days. When demand is high, PCR results can take a week or longer.

How accurate are my rapid test results?

Positive results are usually highly accurate but negative results may need to be confirmed with a PCR test. Rapid tests are most effective one to five days after symptoms start.

What does it mean if I have a positive rapid test result?

If you have a positive test result, it is very likely that you have COVID-19. A contact tracing team member will reach out to you in the next 24 to 48 hours. The phone number will come up on your caller ID as a 410-222-XXXX or MD COVID. There is a very small chance that this test can give a positive result that is wrong (a false positive result). If you are concerned about this, you can return for follow-up PCR testing.

What does it mean if I have a negative rapid test result?

A negative test result means that proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19 were not found in your sample. It is possible for this test to give a negative result that is incorrect (false negative). This means that possibly you could still have COVID-19 even though the test is negative. The amount of antigen in a sample may decrease the longer you have symptoms of infection. Specimens collected after you have had symptoms for more than seven days may be more likely to produce a negative result.

What should I do if my rapid test result comes back negative, but I have COVID-19 symptoms?

Current recommendations are to have a PCR test completed if your symptoms persist and you have had a negative rapid test. This is especially true if you have had a direct exposure (meaning closer than 6 feet of an individual for more than 15 minutes) to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. If you are concerned about this, you can return for follow-up PCR testing.

Recommendations for COVID-19 Vaccination

The COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing people from getting COVID-19, and they also help to keep people from getting seriously ill and dying if they do contract COVID-19. Get vaccinated: https://aacounty.org/covidvax.

For more information, call the COVID-19 Health Line – 410-222-7256 or email covid19info@aacounty.org

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