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  • Betsy Matthews

Antigen, and Antibody, and PCR, Oh My!

With the variety of Covid-19 tests available, and more testing locations popping up throughout our area, it is important to know what they are and when to use them.



Antibody testing is the easiest to distinguish because this is testing for past infection. This test is a blood draw sent to a lab for processing. The result is a qualitative positive (you win the lottery! Ok, not really, but you have antibodies to SARS-COV-2 so you either had an active infection or had enough exposure to the virus that your body began its attack), or negative (no antibodies to SARS-COV-2, so no previous exposure/infection).

Antigen testing is the newest to the market. This test is typically a rapid resulting test (most within 15 minutes) performed on a nasal sample. The antigen test is designed to detect proteins from the SARS-COV-2 virus. These proteins are most prevalent in the first 5 days of symptoms. If you have symptoms and have had them for just a few days, then antigen testing is a good option for you. A positive result is a presumed positive for COVID-19 and is reported to the county and state health department as such. You should follow CDC isolation protocol. A negative result requires consideration of your exposure and symptoms by a qualified healthcare provider. It may be recommended to follow up with a PCR test to confirm or refute the negative antigen result.

PCR testing (aka molecular testing or RT-PCR) is the diagnostic standard for SARS-COV-2. PCR testing is available on a rapid platform (15 minutes) or via lab processing (48-72 hours). PCR tests detect the presence of viral RNA of SARS-COV-2 in a nasal sample. If you have had recent exposure to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 but you have not developed symptoms, a PCR test would be your best option to rule out asymptomatic infection. This test is also for those that are experiencing symptoms.


The PCR test is currently the only test accepted by most schools, workplaces, and airlines/travel industry needs.

Most insurances cover all 3 types in some fashion. If you want rapid results, be prepared to pay up front and seek reimbursement from your insurance carrier as those tests have to be purchased in advance by the provider/clinic.


Before you go book at the pop up site in your neighborhood, make sure you know what type of test they are doing and if it is the right test for our situation. As always, we're here to answer your questions and help everyone navigate through this tricky Covid world. Stay healthy!

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