Also Known As
Coronavirus 2019 Test
SARS CoV-2 Test
COVID-19 IgG, IgM antibody test
SARS CoV-2 antigen test
COVID-19 Ag test
Formal Name
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS CoV-2) RNA Detection by RT-PCR
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Antibody, Serum
COVID-19 Antigen test
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on August 3, 2020.
At A Glance
Why Get Tested
  • Molecular (RT-PCR) test: To diagnose a SARS-CoV-2 infection (COVID-19)
  • Antibody (serology) test: To detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 that indicate you have been exposed to the virus; to help track the pandemic

A COVID-19 antigen test that detects SARS CoV-2 proteins in respiratory samples has received an emergency-use authorization but the test is not in widespread use yet. (For more, see the Common Question on the antigen test below.)

When To Get Tested
  • Molecular test: When you have symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection and/or have been exposed to someone with the virus
  • Antibody test: When you previously had or suspected you had COVID-19 and your healthcare provider wants to determine if you have antibodies to the virus
Sample Required?
  • Molecular test: To diagnose current infections, a nasopharyngeal (NP) swab, a nasal swab and/or a throat swab is collected; sometimes a saliva sample may be collected.
  • Antibody test: A blood sample is drawn from a vein or is collected from a fingerstick.
Test Preparation Needed?


What is being tested?

COVID-19 is the name of the infection and illness caused by the new strain of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. One type of COVID-19 test detects the genetic material (RNA) of the virus in a sample from the respiratory tract. COVID-19 serology blood tests detect antibodies produced in response to the infection. COVID-19 antigen tests detect viral protein in respiratory samples, but these tests are not in widespread use yet.

SARS-CoV-2 is a new (novel) virus that first appeared in December 2019 and spread throughout the globe at an alarming rate, prompting the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a pandemic and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to declare a public health emergency. As the pandemic continues, scientists continue to study the virus and learn more about COVID-19 disease.

There are seven coronaviruses that are known to infect humans, and most cause mild to moderate respiratory symptoms. However, the disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection is like MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) because it can cause more severe illness and, in some cases, lead to pneumonia and death.

Because SARS-CoV-2 is a novel virus, everyone is potentially susceptible to infection and, at this time, it is not known who may develop serious complications. Unlike seasonal influenza, which can also cause serious illness and death, there is no vaccine or specific treatment for SARS-CoV-2 infection yet.

About 1 to 2 weeks after infection, the body begins to produce antibodies to the virus, with the level gradually increasing over time. However, it is not yet known how long people continue to produce antibodies and whether the antibodies protect against re-infection, providing immunity. (For more general information on antibodies, including IgG, IgM and IgA, read the article on Immunoglobulins)

Some infected people may be asymptomatic or have no noticeable symptoms and yet be contagious, potentially spreading the virus to others (silent carriers). According to preliminary data, about 80% of those infected will have no symptoms or mild to moderate illness and will recover within one to two weeks. If symptoms of COVID-19 develop, they typically appear within 2 to 14 days of exposure to the virus. Research suggests that the average time from first exposure to getting sick (incubation period) is about 5 days, and about 97% of people who develop symptoms will do so within 11 days.

The key symptoms of COVID-19 are coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. Additional symptoms may include fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle aches, headache, sore throat and loss of smell or taste. Symptoms may come and go, and there may be periods of time where someone with COVID-19 feels better. Children and babies generally have a milder illness but will often have the same symptoms as an adult.

The risk of serious disease increases with age and with having underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, high blood pressure, diabetes or a weakened immune system. Some people with COVID-19 may develop pneumonia, a lung infection, and in severe cases, a ventilator may be needed to ensure enough oxygen. Although COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory infection, researchers are learning that the illness may affect other organs besides the lungs, such as the heart, brain, and kidneys. In the most severe cases, COVID-19 may lead to organ failure or death.

Tests for COVID-19

The initial signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are frequently difficult to distinguish from those of a common cold or of other respiratory illnesses, so testing is necessary to help diagnose a current or past infection.

  • Reverse Transcription Polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) — Most tests to check for current SARS-CoV-2 infection rely on RT-PCR testing to detect the virus's RNA in a respiratory tract sample from a patient. PCR is a laboratory method used for making a very large number of copies of short sections of DNA from a very small sample of DNA so that it can be detected. This process is called "amplifying" the DNA. (See the article on PCR for more details.) The reverse transcription step allows the viral RNA to be converted into DNA so that the PCR technique can be used.
  • Blood Test for Antibodies (Total, IgG, IgM) to SARS-CoV-2 (Serology) — These tests detect antibodies produced by the body's immune system in response to SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 serology tests can tell whether or not you have had the viral infection in the past. However, antibody tests are not the preferred tests to diagnose current infections. Antibodies don’t show up for about 1 to 2 weeks after you first become sick so antibody tests could miss some early infections. Some rapid antibody tests (also referred to as Rapid Detection Tests or RDTs) have been developed. These typically use a blood sample from a finger prick to show positive or negative results. (For more general information on antibodies, also called immunoglobulins, see the article on Immunoglobulins.)

How is the sample collected for testing?

Proper collection of the appropriate samples is essential for accurate COVID-19 test results.

  • For RT-PCR Testing: The preferred sample is a swab from the back of your nose. This is called a nasopharyngeal swab, or NP swab. It is collected by having you tip your head back and then a swab (like a long Q-tip with a small head) is gently inserted through one of the nostrils until resistance is met (about 2 inches). It is left in place for several seconds, then rotated several times and withdrawn. This is not painful, but it may be uncomfortable, cause your eyes to tear and provoke a coughing spell. CDC guidance says that other samples from the respiratory tract may be collected when it is not possible to collect an NP swab. These include a swab from the back of the throat (oropharyngeal swab) or a swab from the front of your nose (nostril). Sometimes an NP swab and a throat swab are both collected to increase the chances of getting enough virus for the test. Both swabs can be placed in the same tube of transport media and sent to the laboratory for testing. Sometimes a saliva sample may be collected by having the patient spit into a container.
  • For Antibody Testing: A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm or by pricking a fingertip and collecting a few drops of blood.
Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is the test used?

    COVID-19 RT-PCR testing may be used to diagnose a SARS-CoV-2 infection and to help make treatment decisions.

    Antibody (serology) tests may be used to determine if you have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 previously and your body has produced antibodies to the virus, even if you never developed symptoms. Public health officials may use antibody testing to track the extent of the current pandemic. Note that antibody testing is not the preferred test to diagnose current infections. It can take one to two weeks for antibodies to develop after you first become sick, so antibody testing can miss some early infections.

  • When is it ordered?

    COVID-19 RT-PCR:

    This test may be ordered when you have signs and symptoms that suggest a SARS-CoV-19 infection, especially if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and/or are at increased risk of infection. Your healthcare practitioner may have a strong suspicion that you have COVID-19 if you experience:

    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Runny nose, congestion
    • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
    • Chills, sometimes with repeated shaking
    • Muscle pain, body aches
    • Headache
    • Fatigue
    • Sore throat
    • New loss of taste or smell
    • Nausea, vomiting
    • Diarrhea

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidance about who should be tested but testing decisions are ultimately made by healthcare practitioners and the state and local health departments.

    Not everyone needs to be tested. Most people have a mild to moderate illness and can recover at home regardless of a test result, and staying home to recover may be safer for these patients and their healthcare providers than going to a testing site to be tested. Also, there is no treatment specifically approved for this virus yet, so the results of a test will not affect treatment discussions with your healthcare provider. However, testing results may be helpful to inform decision-making about whether or not you should stay home and away from other people, stay home from work and/or inform close contacts, for example.

    The CDC is regularly updating guidelines as to who is a priority for RT-PCR testing. You can find the current priorities at the CDC webpage on Evaluating and Testing Persons for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

    As the current situation evolves, RT-PCR testing may expand. For example, people may be screened before going to the hospital for any reason. The results could help determine whether they should be isolated during their hospital stay. Testing may also be used for contact tracing and workforce screening to determine who is currently infected.

    Antibody (serology) testing

    The blood test for antibodies may be ordered when a healthcare practitioner wants to see if your body has developed antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, even if you did not have symptoms. The protocol for who will be tested for antibodies may change as more serology tests are approved by the FDA and become available.

  • What does the test result mean?

    RT-PCR tests

    • A positive PCR-RT test means that it’s very likely that you have COVID-19 and are presumed to be contagious. The result can't tell you when you were infected or how severe your symptoms are likely to be.
    • A negative PCR-RT test means it is likely you are not infected at the time of the test. However, you can still become infected later. If you currently have respiratory symptoms, a negative result may mean that you have something other than COVID-19 (e.g., influenza). Another possibility is that there is not enough SARS-CoV-2 virus in the specimen to be detected. This may be due to either a poor specimen collection or because it’s too early in an infection to detect the virus.

    Antibody (serology) testing

    • A positive antibody test means that you were infected with SARS-CoV-2 at one time. This may mean that you are immune to the virus and may not get the infection again. However, SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus and there are still unanswered questions about whether a previous infection provides immunity and if so, for how long.
    • A negative antibody test means that your immune system has not produced antibodies to the infection, which likely means that you have not been infected with SARS-CoV-2 previously. However, you can have a negative antibody test if you are tested too soon after exposure and your body has not yet produced enough antibodies to be detected. The CDC says it takes about one to two weeks after you become ill to develop detectable antibodies, and it can take longer in some individuals.
  • Should I self-quarantine if I am exposed to someone with COVID-19 or if I have respiratory symptoms?

    Even if you don't show symptoms or do not get tested, health experts recommend quarantining yourself for 14 days if you have been exposed to coronavirus by being in close contact with someone who has been confirmed or suspected to have the disease. You may not know if you have been exposed, but if you start to show respiratory signs or symptoms, you should self-quarantine for 14 days.

  • If I am infected but don’t have symptoms, can I still spread the virus?

    Yes. Some people who have been infected by SARS-CoV-2 don't display any symptoms—they're asymptomatic. However, they can still be contagious and spread the virus to other people (carriers), which is why quarantining is important after you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, even if you have no symptoms.

  • If I don’t have symptoms, should I get tested for the virus?

    Given the current shortage of testing available in the United States, the CDC does not prioritize COVID-19 testing for people who do not have symptoms. As labs work to expand testing, this may change in the future. 

  • Can I test myself for COVID-19 at home?

    Currently, there are no FDA-approved COVID-19 tests that can be performed at home. Testing is only available at an authorized testing site or through your healthcare practitioner. However, the FDA recently approved the first RT-PCR test that includes a sample collection kit that patients can use to collect a nasal sample at home and then send to a lab for testing.

  • How accurate Is the COVID-19 RT-PCR test?

    While lab professionals and test developers work to ensure that tests are accurate as possible, no test is 100% perfect. The COVID-19 RT-PCR tests are very specific for the virus, but there is a small chance to get a false-positive (testing positive without being infected with the virus). Additionally, a negative RT-PCR test means you were probably not infected at the time the sample was collected, but there is a possibility that there was a problem with sample collection, storage or transport or that not enough virus was present in the sample to be detected. This could lead to a false negative (testing negative despite being infected with the virus). For more in-depth information, see the article How Reliable is Laboratory Testing?

  • Should I get a RT-PCR test a second time or multiple times?

    If you have a negative RT-PCR test and still show symptoms, you may need to be tested a second time; your healthcare practitioner will decide if it is necessary for you to be retested. If you get a positive RT-PCR result, your healthcare practitioner may order a second test on a later date to gauge recovery and ensure that you are no longer contagious. Your healthcare practitioner and/or employer may require additional tests depending on the circumstances.

  • How long does it take to get RT-PCR test results?

    The amount of time it takes to get COVID-19 test results varies based on where you get tested. Once swabbed, the specimen gets sent to a lab. Sometimes, the lab is onsite, but often, it must be sent to an outside laboratory for processing. There may be a backlog of tests, increasing the amount of time it takes to get results. Therefore, you may get your tests results as quickly as within 24 hours, or it may take between five and 10 days.

  • What happens if I test positive for the virus?

    If you test positive, you need to take several steps to keep the SARS-CoV-2 virus from spreading to others in your home and community:

    • Stay home, unless it's to get medical care. Ask others to take care of needs such as grocery shopping.
    • Stay in touch with your doctor and monitor your symptoms. If your symptoms get worse, call your doctor.
    • If you have trouble breathing or other severe symptoms, seek medical care immediately.
    • Stay away from others in your home and use a separate bathroom if possible.
    • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or with your elbow. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, and often.
    • Areas and surfaces in your home should be cleaned and disinfected often. The areas where you are isolated should be cleaned every day. (See the CDC's resource on Cleaning and Disinfection for Households.)
    • If you will be visiting your doctor, call ahead first so they can protect others who may not have the virus by giving you a mask and your own area to wait.

    More details can be found at the CDC's COVID-19 resource, Caring for Yourself at Home.

  • If I have a positive RT-PCR test, should my family or household members be tested?

    It's possible that someone who lives in your house should be tested for COVID-19 if they meet the qualifications for testing: If they show symptoms or are at a high risk for complications due to an infection from the virus.

  • I have heard about a test for coronavirus antigen. What is it?

    The SARS-CoV-2 antigen test detects the viral proteins of this particular virus in respiratory samples. The main advantages of antigen tests are that they can provide results in minutes, are simpler than RT-PCR tests to perform and are sometimes used at the point of care, such as at a healthcare practitioner's office. However, they are not as sensitive as RT-PCR tests, so negative results do not rule out infection. A COVID-19 antigen test recently received an emergency-use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, it is not in widespread use yet.

  • How is COVID-19 treated?

    There is no antiviral treatment available for COVID-19. Treatment is mainly supportive to help relieve symptoms. This may include pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, cough syrup or medication, getting rest and drinking enough fluids to stay hydrated. Serious illness may require treatment in the hospital and supplemental oxygen. If you develop serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, seek medical attention immediately.

    Researchers are investigating additional treatment options, including drugs used to treat other conditions, antiviral drugs that were developed for other viruses, and plasma containing antibodies, known as convalescent plasma, from people who have recovered from COVID-19.

  • When will a vaccine be available?

    There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. However, several vaccines have entered clinical trials. Even if approved under a faster-than-normal timeline, a vaccine likely won't be ready for wide distribution for 12 to 18 months.

Health Professionals – LOINC

Logo for LOINC from RegenstriefLOINC Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC®) is the international standard for identifying health measurements, observations, and documents. It provides a common language to unambiguously identify things you can measure or observe that enables the exchange and aggregation of clinical results for care delivery, outcomes management, and research. Learn More.

Listed in the table below are the LOINC with links to the LOINC detail pages. Please note when you click on the hyperlinked code, you are leaving Lab Tests Online and accessing See also LOINC In Vitro Diagnostic (LIVD) Test Code Mapping for SARS-CoV-2 Tests on the CDC website.



SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe CDC primer-probe set N1 Ql (Unsp spec)
94308-4 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe CDC primer-probe set N2 Ql (Unsp spec)
94309-2 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe Ql (Unsp spec)
94311-8 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe CDC primer-probe set N1 (Unsp spec) [ThreshNum]
94312-6 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe CDC primer-probe set N2 (Unsp spec) [ThreshNum]
94314-2 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RdRp gene NAA+probe Ql (Unsp spec)
94315-9 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) E gene NAA+probe Ql (Unsp spec)
94316-7 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe Ql (Unsp spec)
94500-6 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe Ql (Resp)
94505-5 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgG IA Qn
94506-3 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgM IA Qn
94507-1 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgG IA.rapid Ql (S/P/Bld)
94508-9 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgM IA.rapid Ql (S/P/Bld)
94509-7 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) E gene NAA+probe (Unsp spec) [ThreshNum]
94510-5 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe (Unsp spec) [ThreshNum]
94511-3 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) ORF1ab region NAA+probe (Unsp spec) [ThreshNum]
94533-7 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe Ql (Resp)
94534-5 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RdRp gene NAA+probe Ql (Resp)
94547-7 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgG+IgM IA Ql
94558-4 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) Ag IA.rapid Ql (Resp)
94559-2 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) ORF1ab region NAA+probe Ql (Resp)
94562-6 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgA IA Ql
94563-4 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgG IA Ql
94564-2 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgM IA Ql
94565-9 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+non-probe Ql (Nph)
94639-2 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) ORF1ab region NAA+probe Ql (Unsp spec)
94640-0 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) S gene NAA+probe Ql (Resp)
94641-8 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) S gene NAA+probe Ql (Unsp spec)
94642-6 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) S gene NAA+probe (Resp) [ThreshNum]
94643-4 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) S gene NAA+probe (Unsp spec) [ThreshNum]
94644-2 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) ORF1ab region NAA+probe (Resp) [ThreshNum]
94645-9 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RdRp gene NAA+probe (Unsp spec) [ThreshNum]
94646-7 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RdRp gene NAA+probe (Resp) [ThreshNum]
94660-8 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe Ql
94661-6 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) Ab [Interp]
94720-0 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgA IA Qn
94745-7 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe (Resp) [ThreshNum]
94746-5 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe (Unsp spec) [ThreshNum]
94756-4 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe CDC primer-probe set N1 Ql (Resp)
94757-2 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe CDC primer-probe set N2 Ql (Resp)
94758-0 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) E gene NAA+probe Ql (Resp)
94759-8 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe Ql (Nph)
94760-6 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe Ql (Nph)
94761-4 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgG IA Ql (DBS)
94762-2 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) Ab IA Ql
94763-0 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) Org specific cx Ql (Unsp spec)
94764-8 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) genome sequence Nom (Isol)
94765-5 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) E gene NAA+probe Ql
94766-3 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe Ql
94767-1 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) S gene NAA+probe Ql
94768-9 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgA IA.rapid Ql (S/P/Bld)
94769-7 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) Ab IA Qn
94819-0 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe (Unsp spec) [Log #/Vol]
94822-4 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA Sequencing Ql (Sal)
94845-5 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe Ql (Sal)
95125-1 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) IgA+IgM IA Ql
95406-5 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) RNA NAA+probe Ql (Nose)
95409-9 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) N gene NAA+probe Ql (Nose)
95410-7 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) neut ab pVNT (S) [Titer]
95411-5 SARS-CoV-2 (COVID19) neut ab pVNT Ql (S)


View Sources

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Testing for COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

Q&A on Coronaviruses (COVID-19). World Health Organization. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

Serology-Based Tests for COVID-19. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Health Security. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

Hale, Conor. (April 3, 2020) FDA Officially Authorizes Its First Serological Antibody Blood Test for COVID-19. FierceBiotech. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Mayo Clinic. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

Lauer, Stephen A, et al. (March 10, 2020) The Incubation Period of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) From Publicly Reported Confirmed Cases: Estimation and Application. The Annals of Internal Medicine. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

(April 7, 2020) Infectious Diseases Society of America Media Briefing on COVID-19 Testing. Available online at Accessed April 9, 2020.

Wu, Katherine J. (April 7, 2020) Breaking Down the Two Tests That Could Help Contain the COVID-19 Pandemic. Smithsonian Magazine. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

Maragaskis, Lisa (Updated April 11, 2020). I've Been Diagnosed with the New Coronavirus Disease, COVID-19. What Should I Expect? Johns Hopkins Medicine. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

(April 2, 2020) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Report — 73. World Health Organization. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

Maragaskis, Lisa (Updated April 11, 2020). Coronavirus Test: What You Need to Know. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

Bao, Linlin (March 14, 2020). Reinfection Could Not Occur in SARS-CoV-2 INfected Rhesus Macaques. BioRxiv. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

(Updated April 9, 2020) Treatments for COVID-19. Harvard Medical School. Available online at Accessed April 2020.

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