- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This tests for the presence of the actual virus’s genetic material or its fragments as it breaks down. PCR is the most reliable and accurate test for detecting active infection. PCR tests typically take hours to perform, but some are faster.
- Antigen test: This detects bits of proteins on the surface of the virus called antigens. Antigen tests typically take only 15 to 30 minutes. Rapid antigen tests are most accurate when used within a few days of the start of your symptoms, which is when the largest amount of virus is present in your body.
Which COVID test is more accurate?
The antigen test is typically faster but is less sensitive than the PCR test. Because the antigen test is not as accurate as PCR, if an antigen test is negative, your healthcare provider could request a PCR test to confirm the negative antigen test result.
How do I find out where to get tested for COVID-19?
If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or were exposed to people who have symptoms or have tested positive, you may want a test. First, talk with your healthcare provider. They will review your symptoms in person or on a video appointment. If needed, the provider orders a test and helps you find a testing location and time. Keep in mind that if you’ve been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus but don’t have symptoms, call the testing site first to make sure they can accommodate you.
You can also call or check the websites of your local hospitals in your health insurance network or check with community health centers or urgent care centers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides links to find community-based testing sites in your state. You can also check your state or local health department websites for the latest information on testing locations. The Centers for Disease Control provides links to these state and local health departments.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Accurate and quick tests are key to slowing the spread of COVID-19. If you develop symptoms, please call your healthcare provider or your local public health department to determine where to go for testing. Trust your healthcare provider to recommend the quickest, most accurate test available. To keep those around you safe, you should wear a face mask that fits snugly over your nose, mouth and chin, and avoid close contact with others until you get the results of your COVID test. Be sure to monitor your symptoms and seek emergency care if you have:
- Trouble breathing.
- Persistent pain or pressure in your chest.
- New confusion.
- Aren’t able to wake or stay awake.
- Blue lips or face.