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COVID Antigen Test

Obtain quick and reliable results to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus, aiding in early identification and containment of COVID-19.

Collection method

Typically blood (venipuncture)

Test preparation



Ages 18+ only; Could vary by provider

Turnaround time

Typically 48-72 hours

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COVID-19 Antigen Test

Antigen tests are diagnostic tests designed to test for active infections—COVID-19 antigen tests are specially designed to test for active COVID-19 infections.

What is COVID-19 antigen testing?

COVID-19 antigen tests are designed to test for an active COVID-19 infection. These tests detect proteins on the outside of the COVID-19 virus, known as antigens. Antigens are what activate the body’s generation of antibodies, in response to an illness.

Historically, antigen testing is used to diagnose respiratory pathogens including the flu virus. Most recently, it was given emergency use authorization by the FDA to test for COVID-19.

How does a COVID-19 antigen test work?

Antigen tests measure the presence of a small molecule in a solution. They use a sample of mucus from the nose or mouth as a specimen. Antigen tests are similar to PCR tests but are considered to be less sensitive. Most people use antigen tests because they are easy and quick, typically producing results within 15 to 30 minutes when used properly, in accordance with the instructions.

When should I get a COVID-19 antigen test?

According to the CDC, you should get an antigen test if you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19 if you don’t have access to a PCR test, or if you are wanting a quick testing option that will give you fast results. Most often, antigen tests are used as a screening mechanism for COVID-19, rather than a diagnostic test, as they are not as reliable when compared to PCR testing, according to the CDC.

The CDC also notes that additional reasons for people to consider getting an antigen test include:

  • Needing to screen large groups of people such as those living within nursing homes, dorms, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, universities, or other similar environments.
  • To ensure that you are not carrying an active infection before undergoing medical procedures or before traveling.

Many people self-administer antigen tests by easily following the directions provided in the kits. A downside to the antigen test is that they are less accurate than a PCR test, notes the CDC. There needs to be a large amount of viral load to get a positive test, so if you are in the early stage of infection, an antigen test may give you a false-negative result.

What to expect during a COVID-19 antigen test

If you haven’t undergone the experience of getting an antigen test, it is helpful to know what to expect so that you can be prepared.

Before taking a COVID-19 antigen test

There are no steps needed or considerations to be made prior to taking a test.

How is a COVID-19 antigen test performed

A cotton-tipped swab is used to collect a specimen from the nasopharyngeal area or throat. Then the sample is treated with a specialized liquid, which breaks down specific cells and particles.

Then, the specimen-liquid mixture is applied to a testing strip that has antibodies specific to COVID-19.

A reaction will occur on the test stripe, where antibodies on the test strip bind to the antigen in the sample if there are any.

What to do if you test positive on a COVID-19 antigen test

If you test positive on an antigen test, you should follow the CDC's guidelines for safely isolating yourself until you recover.

The current quarantine guidelines recommend if you test positive for COVID-19 are:

  • Isolate and take precautions to prevent spreading the sickness to others.
  • Wear a high-quality mask if you cannot avoid being in public.
  • Inform those you have been in contact with that you tested positive.
  • Monitor your symptoms and seek medical care, if needed.
  • Contact your healthcare provider to learn about treatment options that could be helpful, such as antiviral medications or monochorionic treatments.

How antigen tests are used to keep communities safe

There is an algorithm that is used for antigen testing in community settings—as outlined by the CDC:

  • If a person is asymptomatic and has a positive antigen test, they are considered infected with COVID-19 and should isolate following the CDC’s guidelines.
  • If a person is asymptomatic, has a negative antigen test, and has not had close contact with someone who has had COVID, they do not need to quarantine.
  • If a person tests negative but has had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 and is up to date on their vaccines, they also do not have to isolate.
  • If a person is not up to date on their vaccines and has been exposed to someone who is positive, it is recommended that they isolate for at least 5 days and follow masking and social distancing precautions through day 10.
  • If someone has symptoms and tests negative on the antigen test, they should get a follow-up PCR or NAAT test to confirm. If these secondary tests are negative and they have not had close contact with someone who tests positive and/or are updated on their vaccines, they likely do not have COVID-19.
  • If someone is symptomatic, tests negative on the antigen test, has had close contact with someone who tests positive, and is not up to date on their vaccines, that person should quarantine for at least 5 days and follow precautions for 10 days.

How to get a COVID-19 antigen test

COVID-19 antigen tests are generally available throughout the country, however, an individual’s access will vary depending on their geographical location, particularly during periods of high infection rates. If you are interested in getting an antigen test completed, you can find one by

  • Purchasing an at-home test online or from a drugstore
  • Reaching out to your primary care physician
  • Going to a walk-in clinic or urgent care

Can I take a COVID-19 antigen test at home?

Many people use antigen tests out of convenience and because they can easily be completed in the comfort of their own homes.

Having several antigen tests at home is ideal, allowing for testing when needed. Most insurance plans will reimburse up to 8 tests per month, whether they are bought all at once or at different times. You can find antigen tests available for purchase online or at most drugstores.

Cost of COVID-19 antigen tests

The average cost of COVID-19 antigen tests in the USA varies depending on where you get tested and whether or not you have health insurance.

According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average cost of a COVID-19 antigen test is $95 without insurance. However, most insurers cover the full cost of COVID-19 testing for their policyholders, and the cost for those without insurance may be able to get tests for free from federal or local government programs.

More about Covid-19

What is Covid-19

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. It was first identified in December 2019 and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization in March 2020.

How is Covid-19 transmitted?

COVID-19 is primarily spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes, according to the CDC. It can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, though this is rare.

Covid-19 symptoms to watch out for

According to the CDC, symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of taste or smell (less common)
  • Nausea or diarrhea (less common)

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Reviewed by physicians

Reviewed by physicians

Board-certified physicians review your results before you receive them.

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COVID-19 antigen test FAQs

Find answers to the most commonly asked questions about lab tests.

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology found that the sensitivity of antigen tests ranged from 50% to 95%, depending on the brand of test and the timing of the test relative to symptom onset.COVID-19 antigen tests are generally less accurate than PCR tests, according to the CDC—but they are still considered an important tool in protecting communities from experiencing high rates of infection.
An antigen is a substance that triggers an immune response in the body, according to the NIH.
Yes, antigen tests can tell you if you are positive or negative for COVID-19, reports the NIH.Antigen tests require a higher viral load than PCR tests, however. So it is important to follow the guidelines listed above for accuracy.
Antigen testing can determine if you are currently infected with COVID-19. Antibody testing, however, is used to determine if you have had a previous infection or vaccination.
The CDC reports that antigen tests can detect specific proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus in a specimen within a few minutes if the specimen contains enough antigens. PCR tests, on the other hand, detect genetic material from the virus using a laboratory technique and are highly sensitive to even small amounts of virus in a sample, according to the CDC. PCR tests also typically require several hours or more to produce results. Both are important tools for preventing the spread of infection.
According to the CDC, if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should isolate yourself and get tested immediately.If your first antigen test is negative, but you still have symptoms or were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should consider getting a PCR test to confirm your results.

This publication is not intended to solicit the purchase of laboratory testing from any individual consumer.

Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD

Updated on Jan 25, 2023

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD

Dr. Rob Rohatsch currently serves as Chief Medical Officer for Solv Health. Dr. Rohatsch brings his extensive background in multi-site ambulatory medicine operations, on-demand healthcare, and consumerism to Solv, where he helps drive strategic initiatives in a cross functional executive role. He brings comprehensive healthcare expertise ranging from medical group operations to revenue cycle management and clinical expertise.

Dr. Rohatsch completed his military service in the US Air Force and earned his MD from Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Rohatsch served on the Yale School of Medicine faculty teaching at the medical school and is currently on faculty at the Haslam School of Business at the University of Tennessee teaching in the Executive MBA Program. He also serves on several boards and chairs The TJ Lobraico Foundation.

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