How to get tested
Depending on your circumstances, there are different ways to get a PCR or other molecular test for COVID-19.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should reach out to your doctor, and if symptoms are severe, you should go to the hospital or call emergency medical services. If you have symptoms, a doctor can prescribe diagnostic molecular testing. Similarly, if you have tested positive on a rapid test, antigen test, or at-home test, you should contact your doctor who may choose to confirm that result with a PCR or molecular test.
In some cases, such as after a close contact with a person with COVID-19, a doctor may prescribe testing as a method of screening for SARS-CoV-2 infection even if you are asymptomatic.
If your doctor recommends a PCR test, they may either take the test sample in their office or refer you to another location, such as a laboratory or drive-through testing site, where a swab can be done in your nose or throat.
Not all PCR tests require a prescription. For many types of screening, you can contact a laboratory or health clinic directly for test options. Some molecular tests for COVID-19 have been developed as point-of-care tests, which means that they can provide results without having to send your sample to a laboratory. These rapid tests as well as at-home tests may need confirmation with a repeat molecular test analyzed by a laboratory.
Can I take the test at home?
At-home PCR tests are available both with and without a prescription. At-home molecular COVID-19 tests generally fall within two categories:
- At-home self-collection tests: In these tests, you take a swab of your nose or throat or collect a saliva sample and send that sample by mail to a laboratory. Results are normally available within a few days after your sample is received by the lab.
- At-home self-tests: These tests also involve taking your own test sample, but that sample is then analyzed at home using a device that is included in your test kit. These tests often provide results within 30 minutes.
With either type of at-home test, it is essential to follow the test kit’s instructions for properly collecting your sample and avoiding potential sources of contamination.
While at-home tests are generally accurate, they are not considered to be as reliable as standard laboratory testing. Rapid tests are more susceptible to an inaccurate result than tests processed in a lab.
If you test positive, you should contact your doctor, who may want to perform a repeat PCR. You or your doctor may also need to contact your state health department that is responsible for tracking the number of COVID-19 cases.
How much does the test cost?
The cost of a PCR or other molecular test depends on where the sample is collected, how the sample is analyzed, whether the test is prescribed by a doctor, and whether you have health insurance.
Potential components of testing costs include office visits, technician fees for taking a nasal or throat swab, and charges for the molecular analysis by the laboratory. When prescribed by a doctor, most of these costs are covered by insurance, but you may be charged a copay or deductible. In some cases, government programs are covering the full costs of COVID-19 testing.
At-home tests that are not prescribed by a doctor are not usually covered by insurance. At-home test options are often available for less than $150 per test.
Talk with your doctor and insurance provider to determine which test is most appropriate for you and what out-of-pocket costs you will be required to pay for testing.