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The Differences Between The Types Of COVID-19 Tests

If you are showing flu-like symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has a confirmed case of Covid-19, it’s important to get tested. There are several testing options available, but what’s the difference between them, and which should you get?

Types of Covid-19 tests

There are several types of tests that can detect an active case of Covid-19. Let’s take a look at what they are, how they’re administered, and how long it takes to get results.


  • The RT-PCR test (also called a ‘molecular’ or simply ‘PCR’ test) is the gold standard of Covid-19 tests. It is highly accurate and reduces the chance of receiving a false-positive or false-negative result.
  • RT-PCR tests detect genetic material belonging to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • This test can be administered as either a nasal swab or saliva sample.
  • This test must be sent to a lab for processing.
  • Your results typically return within 3 business days.

Rapid PCR

  • The rapid PCR test uses the same technology as the RT-PCR, but can be processed onsite using a portable device.
  • PCR tests detect genetic material belonging to Covid-19.
  • This test is administered via a nasal swab.
  • Results are typically available within 30 minutes.

Rapid antigen test

  • The antigen test looks for certain proteins located on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
  • This test can be administered as a nasal swab, throat swab, or saliva sample.
  • The sample can be processed onsite.
  • Your results are typically available within 15 minutes of your test.

Cepheid 4-Plex

  • The Cepheid 4-Plex is a molecular test that is designed to detect several types of illnesses at once, including Flu A, Flu B, RSV, and Covid-19.
  • This test is administered via a nasal swab.
  • Your sample can be processed onsite.
  • Results are typically available within 30 minutes.

What is the antibody test?

The antibody test is a blood test that looks for signs of a previous Covid-19 infection, whether or not you had symptoms. This test detects antibodies that your body produces in response to a viral infection.

It takes time for your body to develop these antibodies, so an antibody test should be conducted at least two weeks after recovering from Covid-19. The antibody test should NOT be used to detect an active case of Covid-19.

There are two types of antibody tests:

  • The standard antibody test is administered as a blood draw that must be sent to a lab for processing. Results are generally expected within 3 business days.
  • The rapid antibody test is a finger stick that can be processed onsite with results in 15 minutes.

Which test should I get?

The type of test you choose depends on your situation, and you should consult with your doctor to determine which test they recommend for your circumstances.

In general, though…

  • If you need a test with fast answers, or if you need to test a large group of people quickly, the rapid antigen test may be the best fit.
  • If time is no concern and you want a test with highly accurate results, the RT-PCR test is ideal.
  • If you want fast but highly accurate answers, the rapid Accula PCR is likely right for you.
  • If you want to test for multiple viruses at once, the Cepheid 4-Plex is your best bet.
  • If you want to know if you previously had an infection, you should get an antibody test.

What are false positives and false negatives?

Even though all medical tests are designed to be highly accurate, it’s possible to receive a misdiagnosis after a Covid test. These are known as ‘false positives’ and ‘false negatives’, which are outcomes where the opposite result is actually true.

In other words…

  • False positives: Even though the patient is not actually sick, their test returns positive.
  • False negatives: The patient is actually infected with Covid-19, but their test returns negative.

RT-PCR, rapid PCR tests, and the Cepheid 4-Plex are molecular tests that are very accurate because they are designed to detect genetic material belonging to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The rapid antigen test, on the other hand, detects proteins coating the surface of the Covid-19 virus. This test is less sensitive than molecular tests, meaning that they work best when the patient has a higher viral load. These tests can return results in 15 minutes, but they have a 1 in 5 chance of returning incorrect results.

In general, if you are symptomatic and receive a negative test result from an antigen test, it’s recommended that you get a RT-PCR or rapid PCR test to verify your results.

Which test do you need for travel?

Covid-19 tests have become a part of travel, so it’s important to check the latest travel guidance from the CDC before you book your next trip.

  • Domestic travelers may not be required to provide proof of a negative test before boarding their flight, but doing so can help them protect those around them in case they picked up the virus on their travels.
  • International travelers may be required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test or proof of recovery from the virus, depending on their destination country. You can find the most up-to-date information about travel requirements by country at the US Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs.

In-Home Covid-19 Testing With Drip Hydration

Drip Hydration brings Covid-19 testing to homes and offices in select cities around the world. In-home testing is a safe and convenient way to get the answers you need. We help save you the time and hassle of waiting in long lines at testing centers and the potential exposure to the virus at a clinic.

We offer group and family discounts that make testing affordable. Our tests do not have age-based restrictions for children who need to get tested, simplifying appointments for the whole family. If you or someone in your group tests positive, our nurse will provide guidance as to your next steps.

Let us help you do your part to prevent the spread. Give us a call or book an appointment using the button below.