Since March, PCR tests have been distributed at a wide scale

On February 4, 2020, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) SARS-CoV-2 PCR test, allowing the making and distribution of the test at any CDC-qualified lab. Later that month, on February 29, the FDA issued an updated policy which allowed labs outside of the CDC to make and distribute PCR tests; and since March, these PCR tests have been made and distributed at a wide scale.

What is a PCR test?

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is used to identify specific parts of genetic material, more specifically, DNA. In the case of testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID- 19, the PCR test is referred to as reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR) since the COVID-19 virus consists of RNA instead of DNA. Most tests are done by taking a nasal or throat sample while some use a salvia sample. In regard to testing for Covid-19, the RT-PCR test works in that the sample is removed of any proteins, fats, and other molecules, which solely leaves an individual’s DNA and any viral RNA that may be present. The RT-PCR test then uses enzymes to copy the RNA to a DNA copy in which that copy is converted into millions of copies through a temperature cycled process carried out by a PCR machine. Specific fluorescent markers are also used to bind to any of the present copied SARS-CoV-2 DNA during the process. If the amount of fluorescence reaches a certain level, it is a confirmation that the virus is present.

PCR tests typically have high accuracy with results usually produced in 3-4 hours or less and depending on the location, individuals may get their results on the same day or the days following.

PCR tests typically have high accuracy with results usually produced in 3-4 hours or less and depending on the location, individuals may get their results on the same day or the days following. However, these tests can only be used to detect if a person has an active case of an infection rather than a past infection.

In testing for COVID-19, is the PCR test the only test available?

There are three different types of coronavirus tests: PCR tests (also referred to as molecular tests), antigen tests, and antibody (serological) tests.

Antigen tests uses a nasal or throat sample to identify if specific proteins that are found in the virus are present. Antigen tests are quicker than PCR tests, in which results can be provided in well under an hour. These tests, like the PCR tests, can only be used to identify an active case of infection. Antigen tests are typically accurate but more likely to produce false results than PCR tests. If results are negative and an individual is displaying COVID-19 symptoms, a PCR test may be issued for confirmation.

Antibody tests are done with a blood sample and can only detect if a person has had a past infection through identifying the presence of specific antibodies.

Antibody tests are done with a blood sample and can only detect if a person has had a past infection through identifying the presence of specific antibodies. The timing and type of antibody test can affect the accuracy of the result. Since the production of antibodies may take up to four weeks, testing too early may lead to a lack of antibody detection. Depending on the location, antibody tests results can be received on the same day or up to several days after.

Since the production of antibodies may take up to four weeks, testing too early may lead to a lack of antibody detection.

Where can I get tested for COVID-19?

Many well-known pharmacy stores such as CVS and Walgreens offer free testing for qualifying individuals among other locations but according to the FDA, the best way to get a coronavirus test is by contacting your health care provider. You can also visit your state or local health department’s website to find more information on testing. Purchasing an at-home COVID-19 test is an option as well. As of July, 15, 2020, there are currently eight companies authorized to sell at-home coronavirus testing kits according to GoodRx. These companies are: Everlywell, LetsGetChecked, Picture by Fulgent Genetics, Pixel by LabCorp, Vitagene, Vault, hims & hers, and Phosphorus.