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COVID Tests, Which Is Best?

9/13/21—As people work to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of factors are in play, including accurate and dependable testing options. The convenience of over-the-counter home test kits can provide you with quick results in times of stress, but are they reliable? There are also lab tests available, both PCR and antigen, which have remained the standard option since the start of the pandemic. As we work to regain normalcy, knowing your safest bets for testing could make all the difference in how you play a part in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 and staying safe.

The two standard lab tests, which are performed at sites including drugstores, doctors’ offices or any other lab-run site, are the molecular PCR test and the antigen test, often referred to as a rapid result test. Results for PCR tests take longer at one to seven days, while antigen tests can yield results anywhere from 15 minutes to 24 hours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), PCR tests have a “generally high” test sensitivity and are considered the most accurate testing available.1 Antigen tests on the other hand, though highly sensitive, are found more likely to produce false negatives, especially in asymptomatic individuals.

At-home COVID tests have come to the market recently, ranging in price from $20 to $55. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has given Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to certain at-home COVID tests, with the most popular ones being three antigen tests, Abbott, Ellume and Quidel; and two molecular-based tests, Cue Health and Lucira. “Rapid tests are not as accurate as our laboratory PCR testing,” said Scott Koepsell, M.D., PhD, medical director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center main testing lab, “but they can be useful in some situations.”2 At-home tests are best used if you are symptomatic. “People without symptoms of COVID-19 should not use one rapid test alone to clear themselves of being infectious,” says Dr. Koepsell.

For symptomatic people, at-home tests have a high accuracy rate, and can help determine if you are positive as early as possible. “In a patient with symptoms that are suspicious for COVID-19, a positive rapid antigen test is likely correct,” said Dr. Koepsell. “In this case, a very quick answer in just minutes can help that infected person isolate and develop a plan to monitor their symptoms.” While at-home tests have a high accuracy rate of detecting positive cases, false negatives are just as common, as you can test too early or late to detect. If you are asymptomatic, it is recommended to test again after a negative result three to five days later, but your most accurate option is going to be the “gold standard”3 lab-administered PCR test.

With ever-changing regulations and information, what this all means can be confusing. Simply put, if you show symptoms of COVID-19 an at-home test can help determine quickly if you are infected and thus need to quarantine, protecting others from exposure. However, if you aren’t symptomatic but suspect exposure, a lab-conducted PCR test is your safest and most reliable option. If you do test positive with an at-home test, the FDA recommends that you consult your primary care doctor immediately for follow up and documentation. If your result is negative, plan to retest again three to five days later, or schedule a PCR test at your nearest testing site. As always if you suspect any exposure to COVID-19, practice isolating until you have medical verification that you are not a risk to others.

Proactive testing, along with social distancing, contact tracing, and safe hygiene practices, are all part of a multi-layered system to fight the spread of COVID-19. AlertTrace is proud to offer easy and reliable contact tracing, so that should anyone in your organization test positive, you can rest assured you isolate and quarantine any close contacts to stop the spread.

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1 MacMillan, C. (2021, August 10). Which covid-19 test should you use? Yale Medicine. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from

2 Person. (2021, August 27). How accurate are At-home rapid tests for COVID-19? Nebraska Medicine. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). CDC diagnostic tests FOR COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from

3Bragg, A. M. (2021, September 3). VERIFY: Yes, at-home COVID-19 tests are reliable to determine whether you’ve been infected. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from

Robert H. Shmerling, M. D. (2021, January 5). Which test is best for COVID-19? Harvard Health. Retrieved September 13, 2021, from