Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, testing capacities and capabilities have changed. Testing is still an important part in reducing the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Below are details and information you need to know about COVID-19 testing. (Published 6/4/21)
Types of Tests
Different COVID-19 tests can test for either a current infection or a past infection. There are two main types of tests: diagnostic tests and antibody tests.
These can tell you if you have an active infection or not. There are two main types of diagnostic tests:
Also referred to as a PCR test, viral test, or nucleic acid amplification test. These tests detect the virus’ actual genetic material.
- This test can detect the virus within days of infection, even in asymptomatic individuals (Memorial Healthcare, 2020)
- Depending on demand and the number of tests being done, results may take from 24 hours to up to a week or longer. However, the general time frame for results is two to three days (Memorial Healthcare, 2020)
- The molecular test is typically more accurate than rapid tests, as it can capture results better for asymptomatic individuals (Marshall, 2020).
This is also known as a rapid diagnostic test, or “rapid test,” and looks for specific proteins for COVID-19, allowing for quick results.
- Positive test results tend to be accurate.
- Negative test results may not be as accurate for these tests, so some physicians may order an additional molecular test in some cases.
- This is the most accurate test for a person showing clear COVID-19 symptoms and can be provided at a hospital or clinic (Memorial Healthcare, 2020).
These can tell you if you had a past infection (CDC, 2021). These should not be used to diagnose a current infection.
Here is a sample of how the tests differ from each other:
|Type of test||Diagnostic Tests||Diagnostic Tests||Antibody Tests|
|Test Name||Molecular Test||Antigen Test||–|
|What it tests||Active COVID infection||Active COVID infection||Previous infection|
|How it gets collected||Nasal or throat swab (most tests) or saliva sample (on some rare tests)||Nasal or throat swab||Finger stick or blood draw|
|How long it takes for results||On average 2-3 days (some can be quicker)||One hour or less||Same day or 1-3 days|
- Self-tests: Also called self-collection tests, may be used if an individual is unable to be tested by a health care provider (CDC, 2021).
- These are available both through a prescription, or without a prescription from pharmacy or retail stores.
- Tests may require either a saliva or nasal specimen.
- These tests are approved or emergency approval by the FDA; make sure to research whether the specific brand has been before considering purchasing these self-tests on your own.
Who Should Get Tested (CDC, 2021).
- People who have COVID-19 symptoms
- Unvaccinated people who have come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19
- People who participate in high-risk activities such as travel, going to large gatherings, or being in crowded settings
- People who have been asked or referred to get tested by a health care provider or health department
How to Get Tested (CDC, 2021)
- Contact your health care provider or visit your local/state health department website to find information about testing
- The type of COVID-19 tests offered may differ by location
- If you experience symptoms of COVID-19 or have come in contact with someone with COVID-19, stay home and away from others while waiting for your test results.
Where to Get Tested
- Los Angeles County
- Testing in LA County is available to all LA County residents for free. Drive-up and walk-up testing sites are available.
- Currently, appointments are not needed, but having an appointment can reduce wait times.
- Register for a COVID-19 test here.
- Orange County
- Testing is available for those that live or work in Orange County
- Residents should first call their healthcare provider for a COVID-19 test
- Self-collection test kits are available at no cost and can be ordered here
- To make a testing appointment at a neighborhood kiosk, click here
- Register for a walk-up testing site here or call (888) 634-1123
- Get tested at a community-based clinic, pharmacy, Urgent Care, or lab. Find a location here.
- Ventura County
- Free COVID-19 tests are available for free to residents or those who work in Ventura County.
- Register or make an appointment to ensure testing availability.
- View the most up-to-date testing schedule and testing sites here.
Understanding Test Results (CDC, 2021)
- If you test positive, know what steps to take to care for yourself and prevent others from getting sick.
- For more information you could check CDC’s resources here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/index.html
- If you test negative, this means you were probably not infected at the time of your test.
- The negative test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at that time. Continue to follow safety precautions and keep yourself safe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Testing for COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html
County of Los Angeles. (2021). COVID-19: Testing. Retrieved from https://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/
Food and Drug Administration. (2020). Coronavirus testing basics. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/138094/download.
Orange county Health Care Agency. (2021). Covid-19 Testing. Retrieved from https://occovid19.ochealthinfo.com/covid-19-testing
Marshall, W.F. (2020). How do COVID-19 antibody tests differ from diagnostic tests? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/expert-answers/covid-antibody-tests/faq-20484429
Memorial Healthcare. (2020). What’s the Difference Between COVID-19 Rapid and PCR Tests? Retrieved from https://www.memorialhealthcare.org/whats-the-difference-between-covid-19-rapid-and-prc-tests/
Ventura County Recovers. (2021). COVID-19 Testing Information. Retrieved from https://www.venturacountyrecovers.org/coronavirus-testing/