COVID-19 tests: Which you should take, when to take one, and where you can find it

Coronavirus

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Whether or not they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19, a massive surge of people across the US and the world have scrambled to be tested for the virus in the wake of the holiday season and the rise of the latest variant.

However, not only has the healthcare system struggled to provide enough tests for those who need them, but new variants to COVID-19 such as omicron and changes to CDC virus exposure guidelines have left some to question what kind of test is the most reliable, and where they can be found.


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Types of COVID-19 tests

According to published information from the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA), which has collaborated with the CDC to update virus guidelines and approve combative measures such as treatments and vaccines, there are diagnostic tests and antibody tests for COVID-19.

Diagnostic tests are used to show if a person has an active case of COVID-19 and needs to isolate from others and seek treatment. These diagnostic tests are either molecular or antigen tests and are usually performed using samples collected with saliva or a nasal or throat swab.

Antibody tests are used to show if a person has antibodies in their immune system produced to respond to COVID-19, such as those who have been infected previously or who have been vaccinated. They should not be used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. These tests are typically blood tests with samples collected using a finger stick or a drawing of blood.

When to get tested for COVID-19

According to the latest guidelines from the FDA and CDC, a person should be tested for COVID-19 – even if they have been vaccinated:

  • If they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
  • If they have had close contact with someone confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 – as in, they have been within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more
  • If they took part in activities that presented a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19 because social distancing was not possible – this could mean traveling, attending large social or mass gatherings, or being in a crowded indoor setting
  • If they have been asked or referred for testing by a healthcare provider or local or state health department

Screening programs might be available and used through schools, workplaces, or other community resources to test members of a group – even if individual members may not have a specific reason – can be tested for COVID-19.

Are the tests accurate?

Although there are no authorized COVID-19 tests that specifically look for omicron, delta, or other virus variants, COVID-19 tests are designed and have been authorized to check broadly for the virus. The FDA said that it has been working with test developers and researchers in order to track how the COVID-19 variants have impacted the accuracy of different types of tests.

Further, the FDA has recommended that healthcare providers consider negative COVID-19 test results alongside clinical observations, patient history, and epidemiological testing – and consider using multiple, and multiple types, of tests on patients to minimize the risk for an inaccurate result.

COVID-19 omicron variant testing

  • The FDA noted that antigen tests have appeared to detect the omicron variant, but may have reduced sensitivity
  • The FDA said that some molecular tests have succeeded in detecting the omicron variant, while others have been expected to fail to detect the variant:

More information on the separate COVID-19 virus variants and their possible impacts on some tests can be found here.

Altogether, according to the CDC, it appears that molecular tests – the PCR tests that are sent to a lab and take a few days to process – are the most accurate.

A list of molecular tests that have been FDA-approved can be found here.

A list of antigen tests that have been FDA-approved can be found here.

A list of the emergency-use authorized (EUA) serology and adaptive immune response tests can be found here.

How to get a test, and how they work

COVID-19 tests are often either prescribed by a healthcare provider or available directly to consumers.

Prescription tests are given by a healthcare provider who has determined a person needs a test. Some tests are authorized only for people suspected of having COVID-19, or only for those who have had symptoms within a certain number of days – healthcare providers often prescribe based on the situation.

Prescription tests may be in the form of an at-home sample collection kit or an at-home testing kit, and may require a person to answer some questions online to determine eligibility.

Non-prescription tests may be available to purchase at a pharmacy or online, or while they may need an appointment may be available freely at public health testing sites or directly through established testing centers.

Where to get a test

While many non-prescription tests can be purchased online, molecular/PCR tests can be scheduled and performed in-person – and often for free – through public health departments, pharmacies, clinics, and other public and retail facilities.

COVID-19 exposure, infection, and next steps

While CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19 update often, the latest information can be found here and through other associated resources.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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