Testing for Covid-19 has become one of the best ways to keep the virus from spreading, along with social distancing and wearing a mask. The most popular test is the PCR test and in this post, we’ll explain what it is, the pros and cons, and when it is necessary.
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What Is A PCR Test?
A PCR test is a viral test that checks samples from your nose and mouth and shows if you’re infected with SARS‐CoV‐2, the virus that is responsible for Covid-19. It can be performed at a laboratory or at your local testing center.
If you're in a rush you can also opt for the RT-PCR test which involves amplifying and detecting the virus’s genetic material at the same time. These tests are slightly faster than regular PCRs, but not as fast as a rapid PCR which only takes about 30 minutes.
The PCR tests are not designed to tell whether you’ve been infected in the past. In that case, you would want to get an antibody test.
The Advantages Of The PCR Test
According to the College of American Pathologists, these tests have a sensitivity of 80% and a specificity of 98-99%. Meaning that the PCR test is the most accurate way to detect if you have Covid-19. Aside from their precision and reliability, two other factors make PCR tests extremely convenient:
- Almost all airlines and countries accept them as proof that you’re Covid-free
- You can get them in thousands of testing locations, all around the world
Are There Any Disadvantages?
While the test is highly powerful and convenient, there are two distinct drawbacks to this type of testing.
- They can take up to 72 hours
- They are not able to detect previous infections
When Should I Get Tested For Covid-19
Last year, getting tested frequently was highly recommended. Especially for our essential workers, or those frequently in contact with people who are especially vulnerable to Covid. There are specific occasions in which getting tested is a must:
- Have symptoms of Covid-19
- Had close contact with someone infected
- Are not vaccinated and were in a high-risk situation
- Are traveling abroad
- Have been asked to get tested by a healthcare worker
What To Do If You Test Positive
If your test result is positive, aside from calling your doctor, you should stay isolated for 10 days. It doesn't matter if you've been vaccinated, or whether you have symptoms or not. If you have Covid-19 you must stay home no matter what.
If you do develop symptoms, you should quarantine for 10 days after they start to show. If after this period you are still feeling unwell and still require medication, contact your doctor so they can guide you on how to continue. Odds are that you’ll be asked to isolate for a few more days. The isolation period can also prolong if you:
- Are severely ill or have a weakened immune system
- Got a positive result after a negative result
- Test positive after various weeks of the initial result
Generally, people can recover from mild Covid-19 at home. Nevertheless, if your symptoms get worse, contact your health provider. If you have underlying medical conditions or are an older adult, be especially vigilant of your symptoms.
What To Do If You Test Negative
If the virus wasn’t detected and your test results were negative, you are not sick. Still, if you have Covid-19 symptoms or have been exposed to an infected person, you should quarantine anyway.
Testing Negative While Having Symptoms
In this case, your results might have been a false negative. Health authorities often recommend that you stay at home and contact your healthcare provider. Be especially cautious if the symptoms get worse.
Testing Negative After Being Exposed To An Infected Person
If you don’t show symptoms, but were in direct contact with a person with Covid-19, you should self-quarantine. If you are not fully vaccinated, there are chances of you getting sick, even if your test comes out negative. Therefore, the CDC recommends you self-monitor for symptoms, and quarantine for 14 days. If symptoms develop during that period, contact your healthcare provider.
With this in mind, if you don’t have any symptoms and weren’t exposed to the virus, or if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need to quarantine or isolate.