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The amount of time it takes to get the results of your COVID-19 test depends on what type of test you get and which clinic you go to.

You may get your results within minutes, or it may take a few days. Many clinics are experiencing backlogs that have led to delays in test results by a week or more.

The virus SARS-CoV-2 is a new type of coronavirus discovered in late 2019 that causes the disease COVID-19.

According to the World Health Organization, it’s led to more than 2.5 million deaths across the world. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause respiratory symptoms that range from mild to severe.

According to a 2019 study, about 80 percent of people who contract the new coronavirus have mild symptoms, but people over age 80 years and people with underlying health conditions are at an elevated risk for needing emergency care.

Keep reading as we break down how long it takes to get COVID-19 test results. We’ll also explain what you should do while you’re waiting for your results.

The two categories of COVID-19 tests are antibody tests and diagnostic tests.

Antibody tests help identify antibodies that indicate you’ve previously contracted the new coronavirus.

Antibodies are proteins that your immune system makes after mounting a successful immune response to the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibody tests can’t diagnose whether you currently have COVID-19.

Molecular tests and antigen tests are the two types of tests that can tell you if you currently have COVID-19. Molecular tests generally take longer but are more accurate.

Molecular tests (PCR tests)

Molecular tests go by several other names such as nucleic acid amplification (NAATs) and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests. They detect the DNA of the virus that causes COVID-19 to see if you’re currently infected.

When taken within 5 days of the onset of your symptoms, they correctly identify a positive test more than 90 percent of the time, if done within 5 days of symptoms, according to a 2020 study.

They’re considered the “gold standard” of testing, and many countries now require a mandatory PCR test within 48 to 72 hours before arrival.

However, the effectiveness of the test in identifying the presence of the new coronavirus quickly decreases to roughly 70–71 percent between days 9 and 11. By day 21, it’s dropped to around 30 percent.

During a PCR test, your doctor typically takes a swab of your nose and throat. The sample is then sent to a lab for processing.

Clinics that can process your results onsite may be able to provide you with your results within hours.

Clinics that have to send away for results — or clinics with a backlog of tests — may take a week or more to return your results.

Rapid PCR tests are now available, although there is some concern among healthcare professionals about their accuracy. These tests don’t need to be sent to a lab and can be performed at home.

Antigen tests (serological test)

Antigen tests, also called serological tests, attempt to detect certain proteins on the surface of the virus.

Compared to the PCR tests, they come with an increased risk of a false-negative, meaning that you may have the virus in your body, but your test shows that you don’t.

Your test is most likely to report a false-negative if the virus is present in low amounts.

Antigen tests are also referred to as rapid tests because some clinics can provide you results within minutes.

Since December 2020, the Food and Drug Administration has approved over-the-counter antigen tests for home use that can provide results in less than half an hour.

Antibody tests (PCR tests)

Antibody tests search for a previous infection. They can’t be used to diagnose a current infection because it can take 1 to 3 weeks after an infection develops for your body to make antibodies, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Generally, the test is done by pricking one of your fingers and collecting a drop of blood.

Some clinics may be able to give you your results on the same day, while other clinics may take several days.

According to the website of the private clinic CityMD, you can expect a 3- to 5-day wait to receive your results.

If you had a COVID-19 test because you’re sick or have been exposed to the virus, you should assume that you have the disease and self-isolate until you get the results.

It’s not necessary to isolate if you:

  • are getting tested as a travel requirement
  • have not come into contact with anybody with COVID-19
  • don’t have any symptoms

Per CDC guidelines, it’s also not necessary to quarantine if you’re getting an antibody test and it’s been at least 10 days since the onset of your symptoms.

According to the CDC, people who should get tested for COVID-19 include:

  • people who have COVID-19 symptoms
  • people who have come within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes
  • people who have been referred for testing by their doctor
  • people who have engaged in activities like a large indoor gathering that put them at a high risk for contracting the new coronavirus

Many countries now require a negative PCR test within 48 or 72 hours of arrival. If you’re traveling internationally, make sure you carefully read the travel-entry testing requirements.

You can get a COVID-19 test at:

  • government-operated facilities
  • private clinics
  • some pharmacies

Pharmacies that may offer COVID-19 testing include:

  • CVS Health
  • Rite Aid
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart

To find COVID-19 testing centers in your area, you can contact your doctor or search the Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) website.

Your primary care doctor may not be able to test you for COVID-19, but they will likely be able to recommend somewhere nearby.

Tests are available at no cost throughout the country at health centers and some pharmacies.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act makes sure that testing is free for everybody, including people without insurance. However, only tests performed by the CDC or a public health facility are covered.

Private clinics and academic labs will bill your insurance provider. If you don’t have insurance, you may have to pay the full amount.

The exact testing procedure can vary based on where you get the test done and whether you’re getting a rapid test that doesn’t need to be sent to a lab. Here’s a rough guide to what you can expect.

Molecular (PCR) diagnostic tests

  1. The healthcare professional administering the test will collect a mucus or saliva sample. They may use a long swab to collect fluid from the back of your throat and your nostrils, which will cause some discomfort. In some cases, they may use a shorter swab or get you to spit into a tube.
  2. The sample will be sealed in a sterile container and brought to a lab for analysis. The sample arrives at the lab within 72 hours.

Antigen test

  1. The healthcare professional will generally use a long nasal swab to collect mucus from the back of your nasal canal. As with the PCR test, this can cause some discomfort.
  2. The sample will be put in a sealed container and sent to a lab for analysis.

Antibody test

  1. The test administrator will sterilize and prick one of your fingers to draw a small amount of blood.
  2. They will then collect the blood and put it in a sealed container.
  3. The sample will be sent to a lab for analysis.

If you think that you may have COVID-19, you should isolate yourself at home for at least 10 days from the first day your symptoms appeared, according to CDC guidelines.

If possible, try to stay in a separate room from the rest of the people in your home and use a separate bathroom if available.

You should avoid public transport and only leave your home for medical treatment and testing.

COVID-19 symptoms can vary between people. But the primary symptoms include:

Less frequent but still common symptoms include:

Depending on which type of COVID-19 test you get and where you get it done, you may get your results anywhere from several minutes to a week or more.

Many clinics are facing backlogs of tests, which has caused delays.

PCR or molecular tests are considered the gold standard. Antigen tests are generally quicker but have a higher chance of giving false-negative results. Antibody tests are used to see if you’ve had COVID-19 in the past.

If you think you may have COVID-19, it’s critical that you self-isolate as soon as possible to avoid transmitting the new coronavirus to other people.