Rapid Antigen vs. PCR COVID-19 Testing: What’s the Difference?

Many of us are familiar with two of the most common COVID-19 tests on the market right now, rapid antigen and PCR. But what are the differences between the two tests and how should choose which test is best for you or your kiddo? We sat down with Urgent Care for Children Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Director, Vivi Tucker to get the answers to those questions and more to help you make the most educated testing decision.

Q: How is the rapid antigen test performed?

Vivi: The rapid antigen COVID-19 test is performed by a nasopharyngeal swab, also known as a nasal swab.

Q: How is the PCR test performed?

Vivi: For the PCR test, we have the option of doing a nasal swab or an oral (throat) swab.

Q: How long does it take to get results for the rapid antigen test vs. the PCR test?

Vivi: The benefit of the rapid antigen test is that it produces results within 30 minutes. The current turnaround time for results of a PCR test is two to three days.

Q: What is the accuracy of the rapid antigen test vs. the PCR test?

Vivi: The rapid antigen test is 86% accurate. On the other hand, the PCR test is 97-100% accurate. We encourage patients who test negative on the rapid antigen test to also have a PCR test done to confirm their results as there have been cases of patients testing negative on the rapid antigen test but positive on the PCR test.

Q: What factors should I consider when deciding which test to get?

Vivi: The primary factor to consider when deciding which test is best for you or your child is symptoms. If a patient has been showing symptoms of the novel coronavirus for two to three days, we recommend the rapid antigen test. If a patient does not have symptoms but is believed to have had or has known exposure to a positive case of the virus, we recommend the PCR test.

Q: Are the rapid antigen and the PCR test covered by insurance?

Vivi: Urgent Care for Children proudly accepts most insurances, including Medicaid. While many insurances are covering both the rapid antigen and PCR tests, we encourage patients to check with their individual provider.

Q: Which test does Urgent Care for Children offer?

Vivi: Urgent Care for Children currently offers PCR testing at all locations and rapid antigen testing at its Birmingham, Vestavia Hills, Huntsville, and Tuscaloosa clinics. To book a COVID-19 test for an adult or pediatric patient, please visit this link.