PCR, Antigen, at-home kits – Which COVID test is best?

Worcester, Mass. — With the holidays right around the corner, many people are scrambling to get their hands on a COVID-19 test before gathering with loved ones.

With so many options available, it can be hard to tell which test is best to take and when.

A molecular biologist speaking with UMass Medical School offered some insight.

When it comes to accuracy, health experts agree PCR tests are best. Their biggest downside is the time it can take for results to come in – sometimes days, compared to minutes or hours with other tests.

If you’re required to provide proof of a negative COVID test to travel, PCR tests are often the ones you need.

Antigen tests are typically much faster than PCR tests with results as quick as 15 minutes after swabbing.

Antigen tests are the ones you find in at-home testing kits.

Their biggest downside is they can be less accurate and can produce false-negative results in an asymptomatic person. Antigen tests work best when a person is symptomatic.

A rapid PCR test is the best of both worlds. They offer quick, accurate results.

Experts say a rapid Antigen test is better than nothing, but it’s a good idea to get a PCR test even if your Antigen test comes back negative if you’ve been exposed to COVID or if you have any symptoms.

If you plan to take a rapid test ahead of the holidays, health experts recommend taking the test as close to the event as possible, not days before.