DES MOINES, Iowa – It can be challenging keeping up with the changes from the CDC. Health officials say anyone who may have been exposed to COVID-19 should get tested as soon as they start showing symptoms, or five to seven days after exposure if no symptoms appear.
The next question you may have is which test to get. One type offers fast results, while another has higher accuracy.
Doctors call the PCR test the “gold standard.” Those tests are sent to the lab and you could wait days for results. The rapid antigen test results come back in minutes, but they are sometimes seen as less accurate. Both have their limitations, and which one you get may depend on availability.
Several people at Polk County’s newest COVID-19 testing location wanted antigen tests.
“I’m hoping to get a rapid so I can find the results out quickly,” Pam Bartlett, of Ankeny, said.
“I want to know as much as soon as possible, so that is the reason,” Nawal Rai, of Des Moines, said.
Others like Nancy Floyd are opting for PCR.
“That’s what they suggested we get because he tested positive, and we’ve just had very close contact with him all week,” Floyd explained.
Recently, supply has dictated the one that’s available. On Tuesday, the River Place testing site didn’t have rapid tests, so it gave out PCR.
Dr. Tim McCoy, a family medicine physician at MercyOne, said the duration of your symptoms is something to keep in mind if you do have a choice.
“If you’ve had symptoms for two days, you could probably do either test,” Dr. McCoy explained, “but if you’ve had symptoms for five days, the antigen becomes less accurate. And so that’s when sometimes a PCR is more accurate.”
If you’re just looking for confirmation… “We look at it where if you have a positive rapid antigen, we don’t always need a PCR to prove it. It’s more the other way around,” Dr. McCoy said. “So what we do is if you have a negative rapid and you’re still wondering about it, we then send a PCR for confirmatory.”
Testing for COVID-19 has proven to not be a one size fits all, but it’s still a necessary tool in the fight against it.
“I think a lot of people are feeling like everyone’s going to get it and so if I have to wait four days, does that make a difference if I’m working from home? Maybe it doesn’t really matter if I get tested,” Bartlett said. “But for me, given circumstances, I just want to know one way or the other.”
While the River Place testing site will be closed Wednesday through Friday because of the extreme cold, another option for testing started a day early. The federal government is taking requests for up to four at-home tests per household. You can make your request by going to covidtests.gov.
The tests are free of charge, and usually ship 7 to 12 days after a request is made.