5 COVID test procedures explained
With cases of COVID-19 still rising in the UK, more and more of us will be relying on coronavirus tests to get checked out and help lower the rate of transmission.
But what different COVID test types are available, and how do they work?
Here, we’ll break down five of the most common COVID tests out there, how you can get them, and what’s involved for each.
- Rapid testing
Rapid testing is when a lateral flow device (a test strip) is used to quickly test for COVID-19 in people who might have the virus, but aren’t yet showing any symptoms.
They are used to stop the chain of transmission in high-risk environments (like care homes) by making sure that no one asymptomatic can spread the virus.
A rapid COVID test requires a swab sample from the nostril and back of the throat, which is then inserted into a tube of liquid. This liquid is added to a test strip, where a coloured band will appear if the virus has been detected.
The test itself is very straightforward and takes no more than a minute or two — a healthcare professional will just swab your tonsils and the inside of your nose with a cotton bud.
Results appear within just 10-30 minutes, and anyone who has tested positive will need to isolate for ten days.
Rapid COVID tests can be performed in laboratories, point-of-care settings (like care homes and hospitals) and in the community.
- Private COVID tests
If you opt for a private COVID test, there are two ways of testing whether you currently have the virus: with a PCR test, and with a COVID-19 antigen test.
The antigen test is faster and cheaper, but slightly less accurate than a PCR test, which provides 99.9% accuracy versus 93.8% accuracy for the antigen test.
You can also get a PCR Fit to Fly test, which is the same as a standard PCR test but with the extra benefit of a certificate that proves you are fit to travel.
A PCR test requires a quick swab of the back of your throat and the inside of your nose with a cotton bud, whilst an antigen test typically involves only one of these: inside your nose or mouth.
Both tests take seconds to complete and will be carried out by a healthcare professional at a private appointment. You’ll need to book this in advance, either online or via the telephone, depending on the provider.
Private PCR test results take around 1-2 days to come back, but you can opt for same day delivery of results at some test centres. In terms of an antigen test, results usually come back on the day that you are tested.
In comparison to different COVID test types, private tests are quicker, both in terms of waiting times and results, and less stressful, since you can guarantee an appointment and won’t have to self-administer or post off your sample.
Check out our guide to learn more about the benefits of private COVID tests.
- Antibody tests
A COVID-19 antibody test tells if you have previously had the virus and developed antibodies.
The test is simple and takes no more than a few minutes. All that’s needed is a quick finger-prick blood test to check for antibodies — no swabbing required!
Most antibody tests are only available privately. This means you’ll have to pay for the test and book a private appointment with a healthcare professional.
Here at Corona Test Centre, our antibody tests start from £95 and we’ll send you your results by 10pm on the same day as your test.
If you work in a care home, you might be eligible for an NHS home-kit antibody test.
These are posted to your home, and you’ll be guided through how to take your blood sample with step-by-step instructions. You’ll then need to post your sample back to the attached address and wait for results, which can take between 3-7 days.
- NHS COVID tests
Of the different COVID test types, the NHS COVID-19 test is the most common.
It’s what you’ll receive when you visit a local NHS test site or in some point-of-care environments, like hospitals.
The NHS COVID test is a standard PCR test, which will tell you if you currently have the virus. It cannot tell you if you have had the virus in the past or if you have developed immunity.
To get an NHS COVID test, you can book a visit to a local test site online or by calling 119.
At the test site, a healthcare professional will take a swab of the inside of your nose and back of your throat, using a long cotton bud. You can do the swab yourself (if you are aged 12 or over) if you’d prefer.
Your sample will then be sent to a laboratory to be tested, and you should receive your results within three days.
All in all, the procedure of an NHS test is similar to getting a private COVID test but results take longer and you might have to wait in a long queue, depending on how busy your local test site is. You might also have to travel elsewhere if your local site is fully booked.
- Self-administered COVID tests
Self-administered COVID tests allow you to get tested without leaving your home, which might be suitable if you are shielding or cannot travel to a local test site.
Once the kit has arrived, you should follow the instructions very carefully.
You can read a full breakdown of the steps required for a home NHS COVID test by clicking here — but, as a quick overview, you’ll need to:
- Find your nearest priority postbox and check collection times.
- Call 119 if you need a courier to collect your test (do this before taking the test).
- Register your kit online.
- Open the package and gently take out the swab.
- Wash your hands for at least 30 seconds with soap and warm water.
- Open your mouth and gently rub the swab over both tonsils at the back of the throat for 10 seconds.
- Put the same end of the swab gently into the nostril until you feel some resistance.
- Rotate the swab for 10 to 15 seconds and slowly remove it.
- Secure the swab in the vial with the fabric tip facing down.
- Follow the instructions and put the vial into the zip-lock bag.
- Place the zip-lock bag into the biohazard bag and seal it.
- Secure the biohazard bag in the return box.
- Post the return box no later than 1 hour before the last collection time of the same day — or follow the instructions of your courier if you have arranged a collection.
You should get your results within 48 hours of posting your sample.
Different COVID test types — what’s the right test for you?
This, of course, will depend on your specific needs.
If you need a COVID test result as quickly as possible, a private test centre is your best option.
Here at Corona Test Centre, we offer COVID-19 PCR, PCR Fit To Fly, antigen and antibody tests in seven centres across the UK, including in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
Click here to book your private COVID test today, and to learn more about our test packages.