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COVID-19 Rapid Tests: Where to Find Them and How to Choose

Written and medically reviewed by Dorcas Morak, Pharm.D

Updated on March 19th, 2023

Save up to 88% on your medications

COVID-19 tests are critical for identifying and isolating infected people to curtail person-to-person transmission of the disease. Thankfully, COVID-19 rapid tests are now widely available. With standard tests, it takes days to weeks to get the result and confirm the person's status. With COVID-19 rapid tests, you can now get tested at any community-based testing center, healthcare provider’s office, local pharmacy, and many supermarkets and have results in just a few minutes. Keep reading to learn how to find COVID-19 rapid test centers and how to choose the best option for you.

What are COVID-19 rapid tests?

COVID-19 rapid tests are tests for quickly detecting SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. They provide a cost-effective means of COVID-19 testing that give a result within 5 to 30 minutes.

How is a COVID-19 rapid test different from standard molecular tests?

The time difference between the test and the result is the crucial difference between the rapid and standard molecular tests for COVID-19. Rapid tests give results within 30 minutes, whereas the standard test can take days to weeks. Also, the rapid test requires minimal training and can be done at the point of care, unlike the standard test that requires a laboratory process with expert involvement.

What are the types of COVID-19 rapid tests?

Two types of rapid COVID-19 tests differ in how they work to detect the COVID-19 virus. They are:

1. Molecular tests: These were the first COVID-19 test to be authorized and used widely. They work by detecting the presence of viral genetic material in a sample. During molecular testing, the sample's genetic material is copied and compared with the virus's genetic sequence. Aside from COVID-19 tests, molecular tests can also be used for viruses like those that cause the flu. Examples of OTC rapid molecular tests are Detect and Lucira. Molecular tests take about 30 minutes to 1 hour to see the result.

2. Antigen tests: Antigen tests look for specific proteins on the virus's surface. These tests are simpler in design and less expensive than molecular tests. An example of an OTC antigen test approved at the point of care or home is BinaxNOW by Abbot. Antigen tests are faster and take about 15 minutes to get results.

How accurate are COVID-19 rapid tests?

No COVID-19 rapid test is 100% accurate. Standard molecular tests have the best accuracy but are still less than 100%. However, if your rapid diagnostic test shows a positive result, you can reasonably assume you are infected with SARS-CoV-2.

What can cause false negative results with COVID-19 rapid tests?

False negative results occur when you are infected, but the test result was negative. This happens more commonly when you test too early and the virus level is too low to be detected by the test.

How can I reduce the risk of a false negative result?

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, but the rapid test result came out negative, you should repeat the test a few times over two days. This will reduce the possibility of a false negative result. During this time, you should isolate to avoid spreading the virus.

When should I do a COVID-19 rapid test if I think I have been exposed?

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 but don’t show any symptoms, wait about five days before doing the test. If the test result is negative, repeat after two days. If it is positive, you are likely to have COVID-19.

Does insurance cover COVID-19 rapid tests?

You should not pay any out-of-pocket cost for COVID-19 testing. However, you should check with your insurance plan to confirm.

Where can I find rapid testing near me?

There are many test centers nationwide providing COVID-19 rapid tests. Among these are pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens – these pharmacies offer both rapid antigen and molecular tests. You can search for more test centers around you using this government resource.

You can also purchase OTC at-home tests. When you buy the at-home test from your local pharmacy with a RxLess discount coupon, you can save as much as 88% off the retail price.

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