A COVID-19 PCR test is a diagnostic tool used to determine if a patient is positive for the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2). The PCR test uses a laboratory technology called a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction or PCR for short abbreviation. The COVID-19 PCR test is a molecular test as it detects the presence of the genetic material of the COVID-19 virus. 

The COVID-19 PCR test uses a nasal swab to obtain a sample. This long medical nasal swab is a nasopharyngeal swab that collects a fluid sample from the back of the nostril. In some instances, a medium-sized swab collects the nostril fluid sample during the COVID-19 PCR test. This secondary-sized swab is called a mid-turbinate swab. Also, an even shorter swab, an anterior nares swab, may collect a nasal fluid sample during a COVID-19 PCR test. 

In other cases, a COVID-19 PCR test may use a long swab to collect samples not from the nostril but the back of the throat. This method and swab is the oropharyngeal swab. As an alternative, a COVID-19 PCR test may consist of a saliva sample spat from the mouth in a tube.

With proper management by a testing professional, COVID-19 PCR tests are incredibly accurate. Although the COVID-19 PCR test is the standard for its accuracy, the COVID-19 Rapid Antigen test provides fast results. Many healthcare professionals will use both tests simultaneously to get a quick indicator followed by a definitive positive or negative. 

Like a COVID-19 PCR test, the Rapid Antigen test also uses a long swab to collect a fluid sample from the inner nostril. The Rapid Antigen method tests for a protein existing in the COVID-19 virus. A Rapid Antigen test produces results in minutes but is not highly accurate. COVID-19 Rapid Antigen tests may result in false negatives. A false negative is when a COVID-19 infected person receives a negative test result. If a Rapid Antigen test is positive, the patient likely has COVID-19. If the patient tests negative for COVID-19 using a Rapid Antigen, then a testing provider will use a PCR test to confirm the previous result. 

Another variation of the COVID-19 PCR test exists known as the Flu SC2 Multiplex Assay. This test for three different viruses: the COVID-19 virus, the influenza A virus, and the influenza B virus. This COVID-19 test may be a helpful diagnostic during the flu season but is not the standard PCR test most testing facilities use.

When and why should I take a COVID-19 PCR Test?

First and foremost, if you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms, you should take a COVID-19 PCR Test. These symptoms include fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Secondly, you should seek a COVID-19 PCR test if you have recently been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Close contact means you have been within six feet (two meters) of someone and recently means you have within five days of their COVID-19 infection.

Of course, you should get a COVID-19 PCR test as directed by your medical doctor, a healthcare professional, or your public health department to determine whether you should self-isolate. If you’ve had COVID-19 in the last three months, you do not need to take a COVID-19 PCR test.

Some people take a higher priority over others when considering COVID-19 PCR testing. It is a priority that healthcare professionals and those who work in healthcare facilities receive COVID-19 PCR tests. It is also crucial that those who work in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes receive COVID-19 PCR tests. People who work with groups closely housed together, such as prisons or shelters, should also take a COVID-19 PCR test. Of course, first responders should test for COVID-19. It should go without saying that any receiving care in a hospital should receive a COVID-19 PCR test. 

People who are not showing any signs of COVID-19 but do have COVID-19 are known as asymptomatic. Asymptomatic people can spread the COVID-19 virus to others. So, people who are not showing symptoms can take a PCR test to find out if they need to self-isolate or not. 

COVID-19 False-negative and False-positive Test Results

No test is 100% accurate. There exists a possibility that your COVID-19 test result may return a false-negative result. A false-negative result means you do have the COVID-19 infection, but the test did not detect the virus. If this occurs, there is potential for spreading the COVID-19 virus, assuming the person who has a false-negative result would not follow social isolation guidelines nor wear a mask.

Several factors may contribute to a COVID-19 false-negative test result. The highest level of accuracy comes from receiving a COVID-19 PCR test from a qualified staff using the latest laboratory analysis. Using only Rapid Antigen tests or at-home COVID-19 test kits can lead to false-negative and false-positive test results. 

How should I prepare for a COVID-19 PCR Test?

Remember to wear a mask when visiting a testing facility or any healthcare facility. If you are infected, this will minimalize the spread of the COVID-19 virus. If you think you have COVID-19 or have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, you may schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 PCR test. If you are experiencing mild symptoms or more, you may consider contacting your doctor, healthcare provider, or visiting a hospital if symptoms are severe.

If you plan to take a COVID-19 PCR test because you came into contact with someone who has recently tested positive, you should wait for five to seven days before taking a PCR test. Taking a COVID-19 PCR test too soon can lead to a false-negative result. 

What to expect when getting a COVID-19 PCR test?

When receiving a COVID-19 PCR test, a healthcare testing professional will take a fluid mucus sample from your nose. If not the nose, the test sample will come from the back of your throat or a saliva sample. The testing professional will collect a nasal swab by inserting a thin, flexible, q-tip style stick with a cotton tip into the nose. After the cotton swab is in place for a moment, the healthcare testing professional will slowly and gently rotate it as they slowly and gently remove it. Sometimes, testing in both nostrils occurs to get an adequate mucus sample. The nasal swab with the fluid sample is then sealed in a sterile tube and sent to a COVID-19 diagnostic laboratory for analysis. This procedure may be uncomfortable for some but is necessary for an accurate COVID-19 PCR test result. 

COVID-19 PCR Test Results

Some COVID-19 testing facilities offer Rapid Antigen tests, and if this is the case, you may receive your test results within an hour of testing or at least within the same day. However, as mentioned previously, the Rapid Antigen test is not the most accurate. A COVID-19 PCR test facility may have a diagnostic laboratory onsite or may need to send the test sample to an outside laboratory. In either case, you may need to wait until the next day or a few days for COVID-19 PCR test results. 

If your COVID-19 PCR test is positive, this means you have an active COVID-19 infection. Now, it is necessary to self-isolate to prevent the spread of the virus to others. As a general rule, you should wait at least five days after your symptoms are first visible before you start coming into contact with others again. Make sure to continue to wear a mask for at least five more days past this point as well. If your COVID-19 symptoms persist, contact your doctor or medical healthcare provider.

If your COVID-19 PCR test is negative, this means that you do not have an active COVID-19 infection. The possibility exists that you have a false-negative result depending on the timing of the COVID-19 PCR test and the quality of the test sample. If you are skeptical, continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing. You may choose to take another test if in doubt. If your COVID-19 PCR test is negative, you can still get the infection in the future. 

COVID-19 Positive Self-isolation Recommendations

If you are not fully vaccinated, have come into contact with someone who has the COVID-19 infection, are experiencing symptoms, or have a positive COVID-19 test result, you should stay at home and self-isolate. You should self-isolate for at least five days and wear a mask for ten days. Avoiding contact with others minimalizes the transmission of the COVID-19 virus. 

DoctorNow San Diego

DocotorNow San Diego
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San Diego, CA 92110

(888) 845-0135

San Diego PCR Testing

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San Diego, CA 92110

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☰ call us at (888) 845-0135
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