The Differences Between The Types Of COVID-19 Tests

If you have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19 or are showing flu-like symptoms, you may be looking into getting tested for the coronavirus. The three main available tests are:

What’s the difference between these tests, and which should you get?

Types of COVID-19 Tests

What are your options for COVID-19 testing? There are 3 main tests, each of which has a specific function. Here’s what they are, how they’re administered, and how long it takes to get results.


  • The RT-PCR test (sometimes called a ‘diagnostic’, ‘molecular’, or simply ‘PCR’ test) is the gold standard of COVID-19 tests. This test is highly accurate and reduces the chance of receiving a false-positive or false-negative result.
  • The RT-PCR test analyses a sample of fluids collected from your sinus cavity for genetic material belonging to the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus.
  • This test is a nasal swab that must be sent to a lab for processing
  • Your results typically return within 3 business days.

Antigen (also called ‘rapid test’)

  • The antigen test analyses a sample of fluids collected from either your sinus cavity or your throat for certain proteins located on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus.
  • This test is either a nasal swab or a throat swab that can be processed onsite
  • Your results are typically available within 15 minutes of your test.
  • It’s important to know that the rapid test does have a higher rate of false positives and false negatives than the RT-PCR 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 is administered as either a finger stick or a blood draw and must be sent to a lab for processing.
  • Your results typically return within 3 business days.

Which test should I get?

It depends on your situation.

In general…

  • If you need a test with fast answers, the rapid test may be the best fit for you.
  • If time is no concern and you want a test with accurate results, the RT-PCR test may be a better fit.
  • If you want to know if you previously had an infection, you should get an antibody test.

Consult with your doctor to determine which test they recommend for your circumstances.

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 is an outcome 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 tests are very reliable and return lower rates of false positives and false negatives; however, they take longer to process. The rapid antigen tests have a higher rate of returning incorrect results, but your results are generally available within 15 minutes of your test.


In-Home COVID-19 Testing With Drip Hydration

Drip Hydration is now offering in-home COVID-19 testing in select cities in the US. Our nurses wear medical-grade protective equipment and practice social distancing as much as possible for your safety during your appointment.

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, making in-home testing a safe and convenient way to get prompt answers.

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