Types of COVID-19 Tests: Accuracy, Costs & Results

Types of COVID-19 Tests: Accuracy, Costs & Results

COVID-19 is an illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus. While most cases of COVID-19 may mild to moderate, it can also cause severe illness.

Several tests can detect COVID-19. Antigen and molecular tests (both viral tests) can detect a current infection. On the other hand, antibody tests can determine if you’ve had COVID-19 in the past.

In this article, we will review each type of COVID-19 test. Then, we will discuss how the test is done, when you can get the results and their level of accuracy. Keep reading to learn more.

Molecular tests for COVID-19

The COVID-19 molecular test is used to diagnose a current coronavirus infection. Molecular tests for COVID-19 are also referred to as:

  • Nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT)
  • Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test
  • Reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) test.

How is a molecular test for COVID-19 done?

Molecular tests for COVID-19 use unique probes to detect the presence of the novel coronavirus genetic material. In addition, many molecular tests are designed to enhance accuracy to detect several viral genes instead of just a single one.

Most molecular tests are done using a throat swab sample or a nasal swab. But on the other hand, some molecular tests can be done using a saliva sample.

Molecular tests for COVID-19 can be performed at many locations, including:

  • Urgent care centers
  • Hospitals
  • Health clinics
  • At home
  • Pharmacies
  • Community-based COVID-19 testing sites

When can you get your results?

The turnaround time varies. For instance, some point-of-care test results can be gotten within 15 to 45 minutes. However, samples sent to the lab may take 1 to 3 days.

How accurate is the molecular test for COVID-19?

The molecular test for COVID-19 is the “gold standard” for COVID-19 diagnosis. For instance, a 2021 Cochrane review showed that molecular testing diagnosed over 95.1 percent of COVID-19 cases accurately.

A positive result from this test is sufficient for COVID-19 diagnosis, especially if you have the symptoms. There’s usually no need to repeat the tests after getting your results.

There is also the possibility of obtaining a false-negative result on a COVID-19 molecular test. Factors that may contribute to false-negative results include:

  • Errors in sample collection
  • Processing
  • Timing
  • Transport of samples

Early testing: Detection of the virus’s genetic material may take five days after exposure. There is a possibility of obtaining a false-negative result if you get tested within this window.

Late testing: The virus’s genetic material in the upper respiratory tract declines after the first week of illness. As such, late testing can give a false-negative result.

Therefore, it is essential to get tested as soon as you experience the symptoms of COVID-19.

How much does a molecular test for COVID-19 cost?

Testing for COVID-19 has been made accessible by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). However, the actual cost for a molecular test is between $75 to $100.

Antigen test for COVID-19

The antigen test is similar to the molecular test. It can be used to determine if one currently has COVID-19. This type of test may also be called a COVID-19 rapid test.

How is the antigen test done?

An antigen test searches for specific viral markers known as antigens. If the antigens are detected, the antibodies present in the antigen test will bind to these antibodies, resulting in a positive result.

An antigen test for COVID-19 is usually done with a nasal swab. An antigen test can be done in various places, such as:

  • Pharmacies
  • Urgent care centers
  • Hospitals
  • At home
  • Community-based COVID-19 testing sites
  • Health clinics

When can you get your results?

Antigen test for COVID-19 has a quicker turnaround time than a molecular test. You can get your result within 15 to 30 minutes.

How accurate is the antigen test for COVID-19?

Antigen tests are not as accurate as molecular tests. The 2021 Cochrane review highlighted above found that antigen tests identified COVID-19 accurately in 72 percent of people with COVID-19 symptoms and 58 percent without COVID-19 symptoms.

It is important to note that although a positive result is entirely accurate, false-negative effects may still occur for similar reasons to molecular tests, for instance, if an antigen test is done too soon after contracting the virus.

Since antigen tests have low accuracy, you may need a molecular test to confirm a negative result, especially if you have COVID-19 symptoms.

How much does an antigen test for COVID-19 cost?

Just like a molecular test, the antigen test is free. However, the actual cost is within $5 to $50.

Antibody tests for COVID-19

Antibody tests help determine if you’ve been infected with COVID-19 in the past. This type of test is called a serological test or a serology test.

How is the antibody test done?

Antibody tests are designed to detect antibodies in your blood specific to the novel coronavirus. Antibodies are proteins your immune system creates in response to vaccinations or infections.

The body produces antibodies within 1 to 3 weeks of infection. Therefore, it is essential to note that an antibody test cannot diagnose a current illness, unlike molecular and antigen tests.

You can receive an antibody test at the following:

  • Pharmacy
  • Health Clinic
  • Urgent care center
  • Hospital
  • At home

Your healthcare provider will collect a blood sample for the test. The sample is usually collected through a fingerstick or a vein in your arm.

When can you get your results?

An antibody test has varying turnaround times. Same-day results may be provided depending on the point-of-care facility. However, samples sent to a lab for analysis may have a turnaround time of 1 to 3 days.

How accurate is the antibody test for COVID-19?

According to a 2021 Cochrane review, the accuracy of COVID-19 antibody tests was gradually on the rise as time passed. For instance, the test:

  • It had a 30% accuracy a week after symptoms developed
  • Had a 70% accuracy at least two weeks after the development of symptoms
  • Had more than 90% accuracy three weeks after symptoms developed.

How much does the test cost?

Antibody tests are free. However, the actual cost is within $30 to $50.


There are different tests for COVID-19, namely viral tests and antibody tests.

Viral tests are designed to detect current COVID-19 infections. There are two types of viral tests – molecular tests and antigen tests. A molecular test is more accurate than an antigen test.

An antibody test is designed to determine if you’ve previously contracted the novel coronavirus. Unfortunately, antibody tests cannot detect current COVID-19 infection.

COVID-19 tests are free, as made possible by the Families First Coronavirus Act. However, consult your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your COVID-19 test results.

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