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Information about the novel coronavirus (the virus that causes COVID-19) is constantly evolving. We will refresh our novel coronavirus content periodically based on newly published peer-reviewed findings to which we have access. For the most reliable and up-to-date information, please visit the CDC website or the WHO’s advice for the public.
If you’ve been exposed to coronavirus or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, getting tested is important. You may also be required to get tested before traveling or heading back to the office. Whatever the reason for getting tested, you want to see those test results quickly. That’s where the rapid COVID test comes in.
Rapid tests are widely available, and you can expect them to be even more so very soon. That’s because the White House granted a huge flow of cash to make tests more accessible.
Depending on where you live, rapid tests are usually available at your local pharmacy or grocery store. You can also contact your local urgent care clinic and see if they have test appointments. And, perhaps best of all, rapid tests are now available online so you can do them right in the comfort of your home.
Where can you get a rapid test for COVID-19?
Most pharmacies, major retailers, and urgent care clinics have rapid tests available. Some are do-it-yourself kits that you take home, while others are performed on-site either as walk-ins or preset appointments.
CVS pharmacy has more than 4,800 locations across the United States and offers both PCR and antigen testing at their many locations. If you need the test due to exposure to a person who tested positive or because you yourself have been having symptoms of COVID-19, the test is typically covered by insurance or Medicare, but it’s important to check first. Scheduling the test involves answering a few questions online, picking a date and time, and selecting the test that you need. Make sure to arrive with your ID and insurance information.
The testing sites are either in the store or set up as drive-thru locations, and your results will be available by text message and online.
Walgreens pharmacies offer contactless drive-thru testing for anyone over the age of three. They have more than 6,000 locations around the country, and the process is pretty similar to that of CVS. Head to their website, where you will be asked to pick the location closest to you from an easy-to-use menu. Then you’ll be asked a few questions, and you’ll be able to select the type of test you prefer. Remember to take your confirmation code, ID, and insurance card, if you have one. When you arrive at the location, you will be directed to a drive-thru, where you’ll receive a nose swab to administer yourself.
At-home COVID tests
There are a lot of options when it comes to getting tested in the comfort of your own home. At-home COVID tests can be purchased online and in stores. Rapid at-home testing takes around 20 minutes. Keep in mind that some at-home tests can be done from start to finish at home, while others need to be sent back to a lab for processing, giving them a longer turnaround time.
The prices of these tests vary from around $11–$99. Some require a prescription and some are available without.
Scroll down to learn more about some of the available at-home COVID tests on the market.
At-home COVID test kits: what you need to know
Urgent care clinics
Most urgent care facilities around the country now offer COVID-19 testing. If you need rapid testing specifically, it’s a good idea to call the clinic or check their website to make sure those tests are available. Some clinics may have PCR tests, but not rapid testing (and vice versa), so just make sure before you go.
Through a doctor’s office
You may also be able to get a rapid COVID test at your healthcare provider’s office. If you visit a healthcare provider, remember that your insurance might require a copay for the office visit. The test itself, however, is usually covered if you have been experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or if you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive.
The hospital is the right place to get tested if you’re experiencing life-threatening symptoms of COVID-19, such as:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion
- Inability to wake up or stay awake
- Bluish lips or face
Going to the emergency room in most other situations will likely result in a long wait and a potentially hefty bill. If you aren’t experiencing severe symptoms, your best bet is to call a healthcare provider or your local pharmacy to get your test.
How long does it take to get results?
Rapid antigen tests can give you a result in as little as 15–30 minutes. If you need to get a PCR test (also known as a molecular test), the results can take longer. That’s because your sample needs to be processed using special equipment in a laboratory. PCR tests can take anywhere between a few hours and a few days to be processed, depending on where you have the test done. These tests may be required for international travel or to double-check your results if a rapid test was negative but you’re still experiencing symptoms.
Insurance covers many types of tests for people who were exposed to COVID or those who have COVID symptoms. However, they may not be covered if you need them for purposes of employment or travel. Make sure to check with your insurance first.
Which at-home COVID-19 tests are available?
Wouldn’t it be so much more convenient just to have a bunch of tests in your cabinet that you could take when you need to, rather than waiting for an appointment? Fortunately, we’re getting closer to that every day. The FDA has approved a wide range of at-home COVID-19 tests for at-home use. Some examples of over-the-counter at-home tests are:
- Ellume: The Ellume test is performed entirely at home and gives results in 15 minutes. The test was the first to receive approval for at-home use and is available for purchase at pharmacies, major retailers like Walmart, and online from Amazon. Recently the company recalled two million units due to false-positive results (NPR, 2021).
- Lucira: The Lucira test is done entirely at home. It uses a unique technology called RT-LAMP, which is similar to the PCR test. It gives results in about 30 minutes (FDA-c, 2020).
- Pixel by LabCorp: This test allows for at-home collection, but the sample needs to be processed by LabCorp, which means you won’t get your results right away (FDA-d, 2020).
- Abbott Labs BinaxNow: These rapid antigen tests are available in two-packs for around $25 at CVS, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid pharmacies. The test is done entirely at home and give results in as little as 15 minutes.
- QuickVue: Quidel’s QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test is a rapid antigen test done entirely at home. For best results if you’re taking the test when you don’t have symptoms, you’ll need to take two separate tests spaced 24–36 hours apart (FDA, 2021)
- On/Go: These rapid antigen tests come with a companion smartphone app you can use to check your results. The test kits are available online and in certain stores, and contain everything you need to get your results in the comfort of your own home. They give you results within 10 minutes.
At-home antibody testing
While PCR and rapid antigen tests are effective for diagnosing a new case of COVID-19, antibody tests look for your body’s response to the virus or the vaccine. These tests usually require a blood sample and are most often performed at a clinic or hospital. There are, however, at-home antibody tests available. Test kits contain finger-prick needles and collection tubes and, like some diagnostic tests, your sample must be sent in to a laboratory for processing.
How accurate is the rapid COVID test?
Every test is slightly different, but the rapid antigen test is generally pretty accurate, especially for people who have an active COVID-19 infection and are symptomatic. PCR tests are better at detecting infections, but sometimes they’re too good. That’s because PCR tests will remain positive for as long as three months after a person recovers from COVID-19, even though they are no longer contagious.
Still, a healthcare provider may recommend that you get a PCR test, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms and your rapid antigen test was negative. In general, researchers look at the sensitivity and specificity of tests to determine how accurate they are.
Sensitivity refers to how good a test is at catching positive cases of a disease. Rapid tests are around 80% sensitive, meaning that they’ll catch 80% of positive cases and 20% of people will have false negatives. PCR tests are closer to 90% sensitive.
Specificity measures how good a test is at detecting that you don’t have COVID. That means that, for a group of 100 people who don’t have COVID, a test that is 80% specific will accurately say 80% of those people don’t have COVID, but might say 20% have COVID, even though they don’t.
In general, rapid tests are very specific (so there are few false positives) but they aren’t quite as sensitive as PCR tests, meaning they can miss some cases.
Even though the PCR test is considered the best test for getting accurate COVID results, it does have downsides. It requires special machinery to process, which is more expensive, and it takes longer to get results.
If you need results quickly, look for a rapid antigen test. Remember, if you receive a negative result but have reason to believe you may have COVID (either because you’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or because you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive), you may need to confirm your results with a PCR test.
Know your options for COVID-19 testing
If you need a rapid test, contact your local pharmacy or urgent care or speak to a healthcare provider about where to get tested. If you have been exposed to someone with the COVID-19, or if you have symptoms, be sure to get tested and, if you test positive, quarantine and make sure to tell all of your contacts.
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- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-d. (2020). Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes First Test for Patient At-Home Sample Collection. Retrieved September 8, 2021 from https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-fda-authorizes-first-test-patient-home-sample-collection
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-e. (2021). In Vitro Diagnostics EUAs – Molecular Diagnostic Tests for SARS-CoV-2. Retrieved September 8, 2021 from https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-emergency-use-authorizations-medical-devices/in-vitro-diagnostics-euas-molecular-diagnostic-tests-sars-cov-2
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.