Solv / Lab Tests / COVID Test / COVID PCR Test


This test detects the presence of COVID, if you have the virus at the time of the test.

Collection method

Typically anterior nares (nasal) swab

Test preparation



Ages 18+ only; Could vary by provider

Turnaround time

Typically 48-72 hours

Book a covid pcr test near you

COVID-19 PCR Testing

COVID-19 PCR tests are molecular tests that analyze a specimen from your upper respiratory tract, looking for genetic material (ribonucleic acid or RNA) of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

What is COVID-19 PCR testing?

Molecular COVID-19 tests, or “PCR” tests, are designed to test for an active COVID-19 infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,the most common molecular test uses reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, which is often just referred to as PCR testing. Most people at this point have had at least one PCR test. However, if not, it can be helpful to know more about PCR testing, what it entails, and if you are a good candidate for getting a PCR test.

COVID-19 PRC tests are designed to detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 by analyzing a respiratory sample for any of the virus’s genetic material. NAAT tests are the most commonly performed PCR tests, as they are the most reliable, whether a person is symptomatic or not.

Also, according to the CDC, these types of tests can detect the virus for up to 90 days after testing positive. So, if you know that you have had an active COVID infection within the past 90 days, a NAAT test may not be the best option for seeing if you are actively shedding the virus, as you still may test positive when you are not actively contagious.

Who should get a COVID-19 PCR test?

The CDC recommends that you get a PCR test if you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are showing symptoms of illness.

While the PCR testing will pick up the virus for several months after infection, the CDC notes that it is great for detecting an early infection or for those who may have been exposed but are not yet presenting with symptoms.

These PCR tests can often find evidence of being infected with COVID-19 in the earliest stages when compared to other testing modalities. This is because other testing modalities rely on your body’s antibody response, which takes time to kick into gear. PCR testing can detect the virus when there is a small amount of pathogen in the body before tons of antibodies are released, rather than relying on the number of antibodies that are produced in response to an infection.

Additional reasons for people to consider getting a COVID-19 PCR test, according to the CDC include:

  • If you have been around large groups of people, such as large gatherings, traveling, concerts, events, etc…
  • If you work in a high-risk environment (such as in a hospital or nursing home)
  • If you are considering getting surgery
  • If you are considering beginning a medication regime that could affect your immune system

How is a COVID-19 PCR test performed

A healthcare provider will collect a sample from the patient, usually through a nasal or throat swab, according to the CDC. The sample is then sent to a laboratory where technicians extract the genetic material from the sample. The RNA is then amplified using a technique called reverse polymerase chain reaction. If the virus is present, the PCR test will yield a positive result.

What to expect during a PCR test

If you haven’t undergone the experience of getting a PCR test, it can be helpful to know what you are going into ahead of time so that you can be best prepared.

First, there are typically no steps needed or considerations to be made before going for a test.

During the test

During the PCR test, one or more swabs are either entered into the nose or the throat and turned around several times against the inside of the nostril or inside the cheek to collect enough genetic material.

Sometimes, if a provider is swabbing the nose, the swabs are entered deeper into the nostril, which can be mildly uncomfortable. The good news is that the test is usually over in under a minute, so the discomfort does not last.

If a COVID-19 PCR test is being conducted in which saliva is collected, the test simply requires that you spit into a test tube enough to fill the tube. There is usually no discomfort associated with this form of testing.

After the test

After the test, you should not notice any side effects and you should not have any limitations, according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Usually, you receive results within hours to days; however, this can vary based on the testing site.

How long does it take to get COVID-19 PCR test results?

Some testing facilities are able to provide results within a few hours, while others may take several days, according to the CDC. Results can vary depending on a number of factors, including the location of the testing facility and the volume of tests being processed

What to do if you test positive after getting a COVID-19 PCR test

According to the CDC , if you test positive after getting a molecular test completed, you should follow the CDC's guidelines for safely isolating yourself until you recover.

Current CDC quarantine guidelines recommend that if you test positive for COVID-19 you:

  • Isolate and take precautions to prevent spreading the sickness to others
  • Wear a high-quality mask if you need to be in the public
  • Inform those whom you have been in contact with that you tested positive
  • Monitor your symptoms and seek necessary medical care if needed
  • Contact your healthcare provider to learn about any treatment options that could be relevant for you, such as the antiviral medication Paxlovid.

What to do if you test negative after getting a COVID-19 PCR test

If you test negative after getting a COVID-19 PCR test, the CDC recommends the following steps:

  • Continue to take steps to protect yourself and others: Even if you test negative, it's important to continue to practice good hygiene and follow any other current guidance from public health officials.
  • Monitor yourself for symptoms: If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, even after receiving a negative test result, stay home and self-isolate.
  • Consider getting tested again: If you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 or if you develop symptoms, consider getting tested again.
  • Follow any quarantine or isolation recommendations: If you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, follow any guidance provided by your healthcare provider or local public health department, including recommendations to self-quarantine or isolate.

How to get a PCR test

PCR tests are widely available throughout the country; however, an individual’s access may vary depending on their geographical location. There are two main types of PCR tests, commercial and laboratory-developed tests.

Commercial tests are kits that you can purchase and can complete at various facilities or a healthcare provider’s office. Lab-developed tests are not for public use and often are reserved for medical facilities, so chances are that if you are getting a molecular PCR test, it is for commercial use.

Ultimately, if you are interested in getting a PCR test completed, you should reach out to a healthcare provider, who can point you in the right direction. Many people go to their healthcare provider’s office or local health department to have the test completed. Additionally, they will go to a lab, pharmacy, or certified drive-through testing site.

Can I get a COVID-19 PCR test at home?

Two at-home molecular testing options are currently available: The first is an at-home self-collection test, in which you take the swab at home and then send it to a lab for analysis.

The second is the at-home self-test, in which the sample is analyzed using a device included in the kit. Many people choose this second option (the at-home self-test) out of ease, convenience, and the ability to get rapid results, usually within half an hour or less.

Cost of COVID-19 PCR testing

The cost of COVID-19 PCR testing varies widely depending on a number of factors, including the location of the testing facility and whether or not you have insurance.

According to a report from FAIR Health, the average cost of a COVID-19 PCR test in the US is $130-$155, although some providers may charge more or less than this amount. It's important to note that many insurance plans now cover the cost of COVID-19 testing, and many states still offer free or low-cost testing options for residents.

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

Depending on the PCR test, accuracy will vary. While at-home tests are generally very accurate, they are slightly slightly less accurate than laboratory tests. This is because at-home tests are less precise than tests processed in a lab. There is also a higher chance of user error with at-home tests.
The costs of tests vary depending on access/type of tests obtained. If prescribed by a doctor, some of the costs may be covered by insurance. In some cases, the government reimburses for the cost of tests. The average cost for at-home costs is estimated to be around $150 or less.
You should get a PCR test if you believe that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 for the safety of yourself and others around you. See the section above for more information on who should consider getting a PCR test.
No, PCR tests are available with and without a doctor’s prescription. Contact your local provider’s office for more information on this.
The CDC does not recommend routinely getting more than one COVID-19 PCR test to confirm a negative result. This is because PCR tests are highly sensitive and specific, and a single test is usually sufficient for accurate results. However, in certain situations, such as if someone has been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19 or if they develop symptoms of the disease, a healthcare provider may recommend getting tested again. Additionally, some travel and event requirements may require multiple negative PCR tests within a certain timeframe. It's important to follow any guidance provided by healthcare providers, public health officials, or regulatory agencies regarding COVID-19 testing.
According to the CDC, PCR tests are different from antibody tests, as a PCR will test for an active viral infection, whereas an antibody test looks for signs of past infection. As stated above, a PCR test may pick up on a virus that infected the body within the last 90 days.

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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