Which COVID Test Is Right For You

There are three kinds of tests available for COVID-19.  Each has its place.  Each must be done at the proper time in relation to exposure or infection.  You Doctor can help you decide which test is best for you AND when it should be done.

An antigen test uses a swab of the nose. This is the most common RAPID test. The test determines the presence of specific proteins that appear in individuals who are at the peak of infection when COVID-19 presence in their body is the highest. A positive antigen test is very reliable. However, false negatives are more common with rapid antigen tests than with other tests, especially in people with no symptoms. In fact, if you do not have symptoms, an antigen test probably is not right for you.

A negative result from a rapid antigen test may not mean a patient is not infected with COVID-19. False-negative results have been reported. Therefore, anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should continue to quarantine and practice social distancing until their symptoms subside. If symptoms worsen, patients are encouraged to speak with their doctor.  A PCR test might be needed.

A PCR test uses a swab of the nose to see if someone has an active COVID-19 infection.   PCR tests are the most reliable Covid tests.

PCR tests are typically sent to a lab and can take a few days for results. A PCR test is the best test for those who have been exposed to Covid and have no symptoms.

Rapid PCR tests also exist, however, there is limited availability, and they are typically used by hospitals in emergent situations.

An antibody test is a blood test to see if you had the virus at some point in the past.

When to get a Rapid Test:

Rapid tests can provide patients with a quick confirmation of COVID-19 infection. These rapid antigen tests are not as reliable as the PCR test.

People with symptoms of COVID-19 should get either an antigen or PCR test.

Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose

Who should not get a rapid antigen test:

If you have no COVID-19 symptoms, regardless of whether you have had exposure to a COVID-19 positive person.

People looking to confirm their status and return to work or school after fighting COVID-19.

People looking to return to work or school after traveling who do not have symptoms.

People without symptoms who are required to receive a COVID-19 test prior to surgery or an in-patient hospital stay. A PCR test is still the most accurate option.

When to get a PCR test:

People with symptoms of COVID-19.

People who have been exposed to a Covid patient and have no symptoms

People who are being admitted to the hospital for a medical procedure or surgery.

People with unique situations may be advised by their doctors to be tested. For example, if you have to return to work or other settings that may not allow for proper social distancing, your doctor may advise you get tested for the virus first, before entering an environment where transmission could occur.

*Everyone is different. Always speak to your health care provider first to determine if it makes sense for you to get tested.


Hackensack Meridian Health contributed to this article.