COVID tests should be free and accessible for all! Here are some things you should know about testing.

There are several types of COVID tests but the two most available are PCR and Rapid Antigen Tests.

PCR Tests

PCR tests detect viral RNA and are primarily processed in a lab. They are good at detecting COVID in the days after you are first exposed, sometimes even before you feel sick- for this reason they are referred to as the ‘Gold Standard’ of COVID tests. PCR tests are usually done at a doctor’s office or a testing center, though they are (expensive) home options. PCR tests can stay positive even when you are no longer contagious.

  • Are better than RATs at detecting COVID-19 in the first days after someone is exposed to and is infected by the virus
  • Offer a formal diagnosis, which is important and often necessary to get treatment and work/school accommodations for those that develop Long COVID or COVID-19 complications
  • A positive test means that you almost surely have COVID-19
  • In most cases, PCR testing requires going to a clinic or testing site
  • Because they are processed in a lab, sometimes results can take up to 3-5 days
  • Swabs taken by untrained individuals are more likely to give false negative results

Rapid Antigen Tests

RATs are also called ‘at-home’ tests. They are less sensitive than PCR tests, and so they might be more likely to miss the virus – especially at the very beginning of an infection. RATs are good at detecting COVID once you’ve been sick for a few days, because they detect pieces of virus when your ‘viral load’ is high. Viral load goes down when you are no longer contagious; for this reason, RATs are helpful tools for deciding when it is safe to leave quarantine.

Note! A recent study showed that a throat swab will have higher clinical sensitivity than the usual instructed nasal swab. As a result, we advise with much carefulness that for any situation individuals conduct two separate rapid tests, one throat swab and one nasal swab. We provide instructions from the Ontario, Canada health department.

  • Offer nearly immediate results- usually within 15 minutes
  • A positive test means that you almost surely have COVID-19
  • Are useful for determining when it is safe to leave quarantine: two negative RATs on two consecutive days are a indicator that you are no longer contagious
  • Offer testing options outside traditional healthcare settings for more marginalized communities and those likely to face medical discrimination or criminalization
  • Especially at the very beginning of an infection, a RAT might wrongly indicate that you do not have COVID-19 – although you could still be contagious
  • Swabs taken by untrained individuals are more likely to give false negative results
  • Are not accessible to all non-English speakers and are not accessible to Blind/low-vision communities

Where to Get Them

Free PCR test kits are available at select public libraries, community centers, or through local city and state governments. Another option is to go to a clinic or dedicated testing site. RATs are also available at select public libraries, community centers, or through local city governments. Free kits are also periodically available through the United State Post Office or for purchase online and at most local pharmacies. For those with private insurance, RATs are covered either directly at the time of payment or through a complicated reimbursement process. We must demand free and accessible RATs.

To order free RATs go to: https://special.usps.co/testkits

My Test is Negative, How Sure Can I be that I Don’t Have COVID?

Test again! PCR tests are considered the ‘gold standard’ test but can still miss infections, especially very early.

RAT tests lag behind PCR by about one day and are more subject to false negatives and user error

If you do not have COVID-19 symptoms and believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, test again 48 hours after the first negative test, then 48 hours after the second negative test, for a total of at least three tests.

Call to Actions!

All people deserve free and accessible testing. The PCDC believes that everyone has the right to be informed about their healthcare decisions, including testing. The expiration of public funding for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccination threatens the well-being of people who have already been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic. Here is a list of things that can be done to help call for more protection for our most vulnerable populations:

  • Call the White House and Demand free testing now! 202-456-1111
  • Contact your congress person and demand free testing now! https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
  • Support local mutual aid groups focused on addressing COVID and community care
  • Join the Peoples CDC! https://join.PeoplesCDC.org

For more information and resources check out the printable pdf below!

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