Waukesha County Help Center

    What are the differences between COVID-19 tests?

    January 9th, 2022

    Written By Nicole Armendariz

    Updated by Linda Wickstrom on January 9th, 2022

    There are several different types of COVID-19 tests available. Below is a summary of the different tests. For more information visit COVID-19: Get Tested | Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

    PCR Tests: PCR tests, also known as molecular tests, detect the presence of the virus's genetic material using a technique called reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR. Generally speaking, PCR tests are highly accurate, and are considered the gold standard in COVID-19 testing.  Results take 5 minutes to 48 hours depending on the test location. 

    The tests administered at Waukesha County Community Testing sites are standard PCR tests.  

    Antigen Tests: Antigen tests usually provide results diagnosing an active COVID-19 infection faster than molecular tests, but antigen tests have a higher chance of missing an active infection. If an antigen test shows a negative result of COVID-19, your healthcare provider may order a molecular test to confirm the result. Read more about antigen testing at COVID-19 Antigen Testing: When Is it Best to Retest? | Wisconsin Department of Health Services

    Antibody TestsAntibody tests can determine whether you were infected with the virus at one time and have recovered. You may have a positive antibody test after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

    Antibody tests should not be used to diagnose an active infection. Antibody tests only detect antibodies the immune system develops in response to the virus, not the virus itself. It can take days to several weeks to develop enough antibodies to be detected in a test. 

    At-Home Collection Kits: With these tests you collect your own sample at home and then send the sample to a lab for processing. You should get results in about 1-3 days. For more information, go to COVID-19: At-Home Collection Kit | Wisconsin Department of Health Services

    At-Home Tests (Self-Tests): At-home tests (self-tests) allow you to collect your own sample, process your sample at home, and get results within an hour. If you receive a positive result, call your healthcare provider or Waukesha County Public Health to help determine appropriate next steps, such as isolation and notifying close contacts. Read more information here: P03090 At-Home COVID-19 Tests (wisconsin.gov)

    To see a comparison of the different types of tests, visit COVID-19 Testing: What to Know | Wisconsin Department of Health Services.



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