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Home COVID-19 Tests vs. PCR COVID-19 Tests

Rapid home tests may be selling out in stores, but are they the right option for you or your family when it comes to testing for COVID-19? While they are convenient and provide results in about 10-15 minutes, they are not as reliable as a PCR test and can also be costly.

Most at home tests are antigen tests, which detects specific proteins on the surface of the virus. They are fast, but less accurate because in general they require test samples to contain large amounts of the virus proteins to yield a positive result. So positive results are almost always correct, but negative results could be questioned. If someone takes an at home test and receives a negative result, they should seek out a PCR test, however if a positive result is received it is likely they have COVID-19. Another point to consider is that you must closely follow the directions in the home test, if you don’t perform the test correctly the result you receive could be incorrect. Many use the at home test as a check in, but know a PCR test is the trusted test when a result is critical.

Molecular tests detect genetic material from the virus, making PCR testing the most accurate form of COVID-19 tests. If you require proof of a negative test for travel or other gatherings, a PCR test will be accepted, but home tests will not necessarily be accepted, so make sure you are aware of the requirements. According to the CDC, “If you need to be tested for COVID-19 and can’t get tested by a healthcare provider, you can consider using either a self-collection kit or a self-test that can be performed at home or anywhere else.” A PCR test is still ideal for testing, but home tests are a good back-up if you cannot get to the test site quickly and want to test prior to getting a PCR test.


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