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COVID Testing 101: The Complete Guide

COVID Testing 101: The Complete Guide

As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, preventative measures and COVID-19 testing are more important than ever.

Research shows that approximately 1 in 3 people who have COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show any symptoms and don’t feel sick. This means that even if you feel healthy, you could be carrying COVID-19 and spreading it to others. 

With a virus that spreads so rapidly, one of the best ways to prevent that spread is to get tested. COVID-19 testing also provides valuable information to medical professionals and scientists, who can trace infections, monitor antibodies, and stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Just like wearing a mask and washing your hands, getting a COVID-19 test helps keep you and your loved ones safe. 

So who should get a COVID-19 test, what types of COVID-19 tests are there, where can you get a COVID-19 test in the San Francisco Bay Area, and more? Keep reading to find out. 

Who Should Get a COVID-19 Test?

With COVID-19 cases prevalent across the country, there are many reasons to get a COVID-19 test. If you fall under any of the following categories, book a COVID-19 test today. 

  • You are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms
  • You have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 symptoms
  • You participated in a protest or large group event
  • You are a frontline worker
  • You are a first responder
  • You are a healthcare worker
  • You have chronic medical problems that impact the immune system  

If you do not fall under any of the qualifications but you would still like to be tested for COVID-19, you can still book a test. 

Types of COVID Tests

There are three different types of COVID testing in the U.S. that are available, and they are:

  • Molecular PCR Test
  • Rapid Antigen Test 
  • Antibody Test

All of these tests are great resources for public safety measures. What test you take will depend on the reason you are getting tested. 

Molecular PCR Test

The molecular PCR test is generally the most common COVID-19 testing method and the most accurate option

Molecular tests look for genetic material that identifies if you have contracted COVID-19. 

Molecular PCR tests generally take an average of 24 to 72 hours to receive results, depending on how many tests the lab has to process at the time. 

CityHealth’s lab typically returns regular Molecular PCR results within 48 hours or less than 24 hours with our expedited option. To schedule a COVID-19 test with CityHealth, go to

Rapid Antigen Test 

The rapid antigen test is named because of the quick turnaround times from taking the sample to getting your results. The rapid antigen test looks for proteins from the COVID-19 virus and takes 30 to 40 minutes to receive results. 

The downside of the rapid antigen test is that it isn’t as accurate as the molecular PCR test. If you need proof of a negative COVID test to do certain things (like travel or return to work), a rapid antigen test generally will not be admissible. 

Rapid antigen tests are ideal for people who are at peak infection or close to peak infection. So rapid antigen tests are administered within the first five days of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. 

If a person is not at peak infection, there is more likelihood of the rapid antigen test result showing a false negative. 

Be advised that rapid antigen tests are not approved for Hawaii-bound travelers. 

CityHealth also offers rapid antigen testing to people who are concerned they may have contracted COVID-19. You can schedule a rapid antigen test at

Antibody Test

The antibody test differs from the rapid antigen test and the molecular PCR test. Instead of looking for the active infection in your system, this test is a blood test that looks for signs of your immune system fighting off the infection.

When you contract COVID-19 or any other virus, your body begins to fight off the infection by producing antibodies. An antibody is a protein component in our body that looks for foreign substances like bacteria and viruses and fights them off.

The antibody test analyzes your blood to determine if your body is producing antibodies for COVID-19. If you are producing antibodies, then your test result is positive for COVID-19. 

The downside of the antibody test is that it cannot detect early-stage COVID-19 before your body has started producing antibodies, and scientists are still unsure how long the antibody test is effective after you contract the virus. 

The antibody test is generally considered the least effective of the three COVID-19 tests available. Joseph F. Petrosino, Ph.D., Director of Molecular Virology and Microbiology at the Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research, said in an interview,

“Antibody tests are not a particularly useful way to determine whether someone is infected currently.”

How Is COVID-19 Testing Administered?

Each of these tests is administered slightly differently. How they’re administered affects the test’s efficacy, which is why molecular PCR is the most effective. 

Molecular PCR Testing and Rapid Antibody Testing

On the surface, these tests are nearly identical. The health care provider handling the test will swab either your nose for mucus or your throat for saliva using a special cotton swab. 

The difference is in what the two tests are looking for. Molecular PCR tests are looking at your mucus or saliva for signs of the virus using a polymerase chain reaction. This process amplifies small amounts of genetic material within DNA.

From there, the lab converts the DNA into RNA (ribonucleic acid) and extracts the RNA for amplification. This is how we identify the virus.  

The rapid antigen test is performed in the same way, with a swab taking mucus from your nose or saliva from your throat. Rather than using RNA, the antigen test looks for molecules on the surface of the virus. 

Antigen testing is quicker because the test process can be handled on-site at your healthcare provider. The downside to the antigen test is that, while a positive test result is likely accurate, antigen tests aren’t as reliable for catching active infections.

Antibody Test

The antibody test requires a blood sample from the patient, as this test looks for the antibodies and proteins your body produces when fighting off an infection. 

The blood is taken to a lab and incubated with viral antigens. If the coronavirus antibody is present in the blood, it should bind to the viral antigen. This creates a positive test result. 

This test can determine if you were previously infected with COVID-19 but is usually unable to detect active infection.

Which COVID-19 Test is Right For You?

When you speak to your medical professional, they can help determine which COVID-19 testing option is right for you. For most people, the molecular PCR test is the best option. Whether you have COVID-19 symptoms or not, the molecular PCR test’s high degree of accuracy is the most reliable. 

In some cases, if you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and need fast results, the rapid antigen test will be recommended. The antibody test is generally not recommended, as it is the least effective and only works within a certain window of time after you contract COVID-19. 

With the monumental efforts underway to halt the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID testing has never been more vital.

Take your health and the health of your community into your own hands and book a COVID-19 test today. Tests are free for all U.S. citizens, and CityHealth currently has six convenient testing sites throughout the San Francisco Bay area. 

At CityHealth Urgent Care, our experienced staff are working tirelessly to help stop the spread. We will make your appointment as quick and easy as possible, and you’ll have your results back within 24 – 48 hours for a molecular PCR test or 20 – 45 minutes for a rapid antigen test. 

Let’s work together to stop the spread of COVID-19! Book a COVID test today.

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