gatherwell logo

Antigen Vs. PCR: How to Choose Your COVID Test Type

Getting tested for COVID-19? You need to be able to select the right type of test and understand what different test results may mean. All types of COVID-19 testing aren’t the same, and a PCR test or an antigen test might be best for your unique circumstances and concerns.

At GatherWell Rapid Testing, our team offers PCR testsantigen tests, and even serological (antibody) testing. From our locations in Ham Lake, Edina, and Otsego, Minnesota, you can learn more about your potential COVID-19 infection status and get the help you need to interpret your results. Here’s what you need to know about antigen vs. PCR tests.

Antigen testing

An antigen test detects COVID-19 virus proteins in a respiratory sample like a nasal swab. Antigen testing delivers the most accuracy in the period shortly after you become symptomatic.

If your antigen test comes up positive, you most likely have COVID-19, due to these proteins being present in your sample. Antigen testing has a small chance of false-positive results.

A negative result from an antigen test indicates that your sample didn’t contain COVID-19 virus proteins. However, antigen testing can return a false-negative result.

You can still have COVID-19 can return a negative antigen test; for example, if you’ve only very recently become infected and spike proteins haven’t yet multiplied in your respiratory system. Antigen testing becomes less effective after you’ve had symptoms of an infection for more than a week, being more likely to return negative at that point.

PCR testing

polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test detects the presence of genetic material from a virus in your system. With a high degree of sensitivity, PCR testing can detect a current infection, or fragment of virus remaining after infection. Many consider PCR testing the “gold standard” for COVID-19.

Here’s how it works. We take a respiratory sample, often using a nasal swab. Then we seal your sample and send it to our on-site lab for testing. There, we extract and analyze genetic material, looking for traces of the COVID-19 virus.

If you return a positive result, you most likely have COVID-19 and should take steps to protect yourself and others. PCR testing can detect virus fragments after recovery from an infection, so you can continue testing positive with this test after you’re no longer symptomatic or infectious.

A negative PCR test indicates that, when you took your test, you probably didn’t have COVID-19. You may have become infected shortly before testing, without sufficient viral load for detection, or just after testing, so you should continue to exercise caution as needed.

Picking your COVID-19 test

You benefit from the quickness of antigen testing, which can be as rapid as 15-30 minutes from test to results. You can have a high degree of confidence in a returned positive antigen test result. However, you may want to retest with a PCR test to ensure that you don’t return a false-negative antigen test.

PCR testing is the most reliable and accurate way to detect active infection.

Get tested if you have symptoms of potential COVID-19, or if you’ve been exposed to a known infection. Safe and effective vaccines are widely available that can protect you and others from COVID-19 symptoms, and reduce the rate of community transmission.

For quick and reliable COVID-19 testing, get in touch with GatherWell Rapid Testing today. We offer antigen testing, PCR testing, and serological testing to detect the presence of antibodies indicating a past COVID-19 infection. 

Make your appointment over the phone or schedule online.