Getting a test for COVID-19 is just another stressor on top of an already confusing time as we weather this pandemic. The tests themselves are relatively straight forward (often just a swab), but finding where to get a test and getting a spot in line has proven challenging, especially as cases and demand surge.
If you do get in for a test, the questions remain – what type of test is it, how long will it take to get results, and will it be accurate?
Dr. James Pinckney from Diamond Physicians explains there three types of tests and they’re not all created equal. There are antibody tests, antigen tests, and PCR tests. “At this point, antibody testing really isn’t very fruitful,” he says, “we don’t know if you do have antibodies for COVID-19 if that will translate into immunity down the line.”
Pinckney says what you really want to know is if you are contagious, and he says PCR testing is the best bet for that. However, PCR testing is expensive and it can take longer to get the results; sometimes 10-15 days.
Viral antigen testing is the next best option. “With the viral antigen testing,” Pinckney says,” the sensitivity is now 96.7%. It’s going to be accurate almost 97% of the time, and PCR is accurate between 95-99%.”
So what about those test you can do at home? Pinckney says you should steer clear.
There have been a lot of companies that have jumped into the COVID-19 testing market, and some of it could be a cash grab. “The tests have not substantiated by clinical data, they have not been approved by the FDA” he says.
Pinckney suggests going somewhere that a medical professional can administer the test given user error can affect the results of the test.