Which COVID test is best? Health officials weigh in

Which COVID test is best? Health officials weigh in

If you have to travel over the holidays, health officials say it’s smart to get tested before and after.

NORFOLK, Va. — Thanksgiving is just about two weeks away, but not everyone lives close to their loved ones. So, some people are traveling.

The CDC recommends against that, but if you have to travel, health officials say it’s smart to get tested before and after.

Which test should you get? Will a rapid test do the trick, or should people wait a few days for results sent to a lab?

Most health care facilities like Velocity Urgent Care offer COVID-19 antigen testing, known as a rapid test.

“It will come back in approximately 15 minutes,” said Velocity Medical Director Dr. Tiffany Sibley.

Dr. Sibley said results are quick, but the CDC backs using a diagnostic test, or PCR.

“Nothing is going to be 100% of the time, including PCR,” Dr. Sibley said. “But PCR is definitely what we would consider to be a gold standard.”

Sentara Healthcare’s Director of Laboratory Services Eric Young said they exclusively use PCR tests. He said the CDC recommends a rapid test only if a person has early symptoms.

“If you’ve gotten symptoms within five to seven days, an antigen test might be accurate,” Young said. “The biggest concern is you have a much higher chance of getting a false negative test with an antigen.”

What makes a PCR’s accuracy different than a rapid test?

“They are using different technologies,” Young said.

He said a PCR test scans for the genetic material of the virus.

“We can detect a really small amount of a virus in somebody’s sample that we have,” Young said.

Rapid testing technology scans for virus proteins.

“It needs a lot more of them to be able to find them,” Young said.

Both officials said a rapid tests’ speed is beneficial. But if you get a negative result, you may still need a follow-up test.

“For example, you get a negative rapid result, but we had a high suspicion that the patient was truly positive, then we could back that up with a confirmatory PCR test,” Dr. Sibley said.

Dr. Sibley said they are getting PCR lab testing results back to patients in three to five days.

Young said Sentara Healthcare’s private lab at Norfolk General gets results back within 24 to 48 hours. Sentara Healthcare was also just chosen by the state to get more testing resources. They are now a part of the One Lab Network and will soon assist with community testing.

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