Is a PCR Test a Rapid Test?

Close up blue-gloved hands inserting a nasal cotton swab in a COVID-19 test tube with a laboratory bag in the background.

If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or have recently been exposed to someone with the virus, you should get tested today. At Oxford Urgent Care, we offer rapid and PCR testing for COVID-19 every day with no appointment necessary.

Please don’t wait to feel better; visit us today to get tested.

How is COVID-19 detected?

The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2. It can be detected in two ways during active infection: an antigen test or a molecular test. 

Let’s explore the two active test types in more detail.

Is a PCR test a rapid test?

A PCR test is not a rapid test, but it is still a viable way to get your results quickly.

What is a PCR test?

A PCR or molecular test detects the presence of molecular material from the COVID-19 virus in your body. It is performed using a nasal swab inserted and rotated into one or both nostrils for ample fluid collection.

After a sample is rendered, your test is analyzed in a laboratory to determine the presence or absence of COVID-19 molecular markers.

Test results are nearly 100% accurate, and results are confirmed to patients within 3-5 days. 

What is a rapid test?

A rapid, or antigen, test works rapidly to look for the presence of antigens in your body that can be found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. Just like PCR tests, antigen tests are administered using a nasal swab inserted into one or both of your nostrils. They are easy to use and convenient for those who need rapid results.

Results are available within as little as 10 to 15 minutes in most cases. Rapid testing provides the most accurate results when symptoms are at the peak, typically during the first 5 to 7 days of virus onset.

Inaccurate results are known to occur, including a higher rate of false negatives and false positives, for those with mild or no symptoms. Because rapid tests are less sensitive to virus detection than PCR tests, we believe the best backup to a negative rapid test is a molecular test.

You should remain in quarantine until your symptoms subside, even if your rapid test is negative. 

What are some differences between a PCR test and a rapid test?

The most significant difference between a PCR and a rapid test is the bodily material the test is looking for to produce accurate results. While rapid tests look for protein fragments consistent with those in COVID-19, PCR testing looks at the exact genetic makeup of COVID-19 in the body. The PCR test uses a polymerase chain reaction to identify the viral genetic material of the virus.

Another big difference is the amount of time it takes to receive your results. While rapid tests can provide results in as little as 10 minutes, PCR tests can take up to 5 days.

Lastly, a notable difference is the overall accuracy of results. Because PCR tests can detect the genetic makeup of COVID-19 during and slightly after active infection, it is the most accurate form of testing available. Rapid testing has been shown to provide an accuracy percentage of around 75%, while PCR testing is closer to 99% accurate.

Who should get tested?

You should get tested if you have been directly exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms consistent with the virus.

Symptoms of COVID-19

COVID-19 symptoms vary from person to person and range from mild to severe. Some people may not experience any symptoms at all.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Chills
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Headache
  • Congestion
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Sore throat

If you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19, we advise you to get tested today. If a positive test is received, you should stay in quarantine for 10 days from the onset of symptoms and at least 24 hours since your last fever. 

At Oxford Urgent Care, we offer PCR and rapid testing 7 days a week. Walk-in, schedule an appointment online or contact us today for further information on COVID-19 testing.