Explainer: What are the different types of COVID-19 tests?

(Tiếng Việt)

With the recent peak of COVID infections due to the Omicron variant of COVID-19, there has been an increased need for COVID-19 testing and a greater demand for COVID-19 tests. Below is some information, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about when you should get tested for COVID-19 and how you can get a test.

When should you test?

It is important to get tested for COVID-19 when you get symptoms of COVID-19, which can mimic flu and cold symptoms. Aside from symptoms, there are other times when testing is needed. 

If you come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should test as soon as possible and again at 5 to 7 days after exposure. You should get tested even if you are vaccinated for COVID-19.

What kinds of tests are there? 

There are two types of tests for COVID-19 infections.

Viral tests

  • These tests are conducted in a health clinic by a healthcare worker.
  • These tests are conducted by swabbing the nose, or taking a saliva sample
  • Results are not available until at least 24 hours later
  • These tests include the Polymerase Chain Reaction Tests, also known as a PCR test. 

Rapid tests

  • Also known as “at-home tests,” “over the counter tests,” or “antigen tests”
  • These tests are conducted by swabbing the nose.
  • Results are usually in 15-30 minutes.
  • Less accurate than viral tests that are done in a lab.

What is the most accurate test?

COVID tests done at a clinic, such as the PCR tests, are considered the most accurate. At-home tests can show false negatives when a person does not have symptoms of COVID-19.

How do I get tested?

As of January 18, 2022 the U.S. has made four, and free, at-home COVID-19 tests available for every home in the U.S., which can be ordered at COVIDtests.gov

COVID tests can be located through your state and county health department along with partnered pharmacies, retailers, and healthcare centers. If you have health insurance, your insurance must reimburse you for 8 at-home tests each month for each person on your insurance plan. 

If you do not have health insurance, there are no-cost antigen and PCR tests through community-based sites that can be found at: https://www.hhs.gov/coronavirus/community-based-testing-sites/index.html.  

What do I do with my test results?

After you get your viral test results, there will be one of two results: positive or negative.

If you test positive, you very likely have COVID-19 and are infectious. You should isolate yourself and call your healthcare provider for treatment options. 

If you test negative, the test did not detect the virus in your body. But does not rule out an infection. Negative results from an at-home test may not be reliable, especially if you have symptoms of COVID-19. If you have been around someone that has tested positive, you should test again at least 24 hours after your previous test. 

Multiple negative tests increases the likelihood that you are not infected with COVID-19.  

Remember, testing is an important first step in treating COVID-19. It is also an important way to protect those you know from catching COVID-19. By testing regularly for COVID-19, being vaccinated, and wearing a mask in public, you can protect yourself and those you know from COVID-19.

To make an appointment to get your vaccine, visit

Viet Fact Check has partnered with a number of community and health organizations to educate the Vietnamese-American community on the COVID-19 vaccine. The project is supported by: Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT), Asian Health Services (AHS), the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, Union of North American Vietnamese American Students (UNAVSA), Southeast Asian Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Asian American Research Center on Health (ARCH) and the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO).