Just How Fast Is a Rapid COVID Antigen Test?

Reliable, fast testing has remained one of the most important tools for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Fast testing procedures like rapid antigen tests provide results within minutes so we can act even faster to begin contact tracing and quarantining individuals with infections.

How Long Do Rapid COVID Antigen Tests Take?

Rapid COVID antigen tests usually provide results within 15-20 minutes, though the exact time frame will depend on your test kit and where the test is conducted. With at-home antigen testing kits, these tests can be conducted just about anywhere, as they don’t require medical experts or specialized laboratory equipment.

Antigen tests identify active COVID-19 infections by detecting distinct SARS-CoV-2 proteins — also known as antigens — in samples taken from your nasal passage from a nasopharyngeal swab. These tests can detect COVID-19 antigens in people with symptoms or asymptomatic infections.

Rapid COVID-19 antigen tests cannot detect infections in people who have recovered from their illness. When your body fights a virus, it uses antibodies to attack and expel the antigens, leaving nothing for this test to detect.

Other Types of COVID Tests and Their Speeds

Testing for COVID-19 is usually conducted using one of three methods — rapid antigen tests, rapid antibody tests or PCR tests. While each type of test is valuable, there are some distinct differences that could make one more or less effective for your purposes.

Antibody Tests

When your body detects the antigens of a virus, your immune system gets to work creating antibodies to fight the infection. COVID-19 antibody tests analyze a blood sample to detect the presence of the antibodies created in response to SARS-CoV-2 antigens. Unlike antigen tests, antibody tests cannot detect an active case of COVID-19 because the body has not yet developed antibodies.

Rapid antibody test kits can produce results in as little as 15 to 20 minutes, but tests performed in medical facilities may take longer to analyze depending on demand. 

PCR Tests

Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing is considered the standard for detecting active cases of COVID-19. These tests require samples from nose or throat swabs or saliva and advanced medical equipment to identify RNA material from SARS-CoV-2.

PCR tests take the longest because they need to be analyzed in a lab. Your wait time could be anywhere from 24 hours to a week. 

How Accurate Are Rapid Antigen Tests?

Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 are generally accurate if used correctly and taken at the right time. Tests taken too early following your exposure to COVID-19 can return a false negative because antigen levels aren’t detectable yet. 

If you’re experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19, and your antigen test returns a negative result, you should isolate and schedule a PCR test for confirmation. False positives are much less common, so a positive result likely means you have a COVID-19 infection.

Purchase Rapid Antigen Tests in Bulk

SUNLINE Supply is a subsidiary of Arnold’s Office Furniture formed to help provide access to PPE and testing materials that slow the spread of COVID-19. We supply only the highest-rated, FDA-certified COVID-19 testing kits to ensure the best quality and the most accurate test results.

Shop our online inventory today, or contact our team for help determining which rapid COVID-19 test is right for you. 

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