Rapid COVID Testing vs. PCR: Understanding the Differences

Want to know whether you have COVID or not but don’t know what type of COVID test you should take? Learn the difference between Rapid Covid and PCR tests in this article to choose the right option.


While both tests are used for COVID testing there are many differences between them.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a type of nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) that is done by taking a small sample of genetic material and copying it multiple times. This process is called amplification.

Whereas Rapid antigen tests take pieces of viral proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus (antigens) [that cause COVID-19] for testing. These tests provide quick results and are often used to detect other viruses that cause illnesses like flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

How do they work?

PCR test uses an amplification process, where a healthcare provider takes a sample of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and amplifies it with the help of technologies. Amplifying RNA allows you to check even the small traces of the COVID-19 virus in your sample.

Whereas, in a rapid test, called an antigen test, healthcare providers check the proteins that are found outside the virus. The antigen test mimics antibody function as they get attached to the antigen protein to fight the virus. This is what’s tested when your nasal swab sample is taken and put into a test strip. The test strip acts like an antibody and shows if there’s any COVID-19 antigen in your system or not. If you’re positive for COVID-19, then molecules in the liquid will attach to those antigens and a line appears on the test strip. And if there are not any antigens detected in your system, the liquid doesn’t respond, and no line will appear on the strip which means you are negative for the virus.


When amplifying the genetic material, it can detect the smallest amount of virus easily. PCR tests also differentiate between different virus variants or strains. Whereas rapid COVID testing produces results in around 15 minutes. It is also easy to perform that by following instructions, anyone can test themselves with an antigen test. As antigen tests produce quick results, they allow patients to receive initial treatment and follow the process of a home lockdown period to prevent the spread of the virus.


The only drawback of the PCR is that it takes time to produce results. The average turnaround time for PCR test results is 2 to 3 days after the lab receives the sample.

Whereas antigen tests can only determine if you have an active virus in your body which means antigen tests don’t always detect the virus if they are present in smaller amounts as accurately as PCR can. Rapid test negative test results are not always reliable.

That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prefers the PCR tests for accurate diagnosis.

Which test is right for you?

Well, both tests are good for COVID testing so choosing the right one is not possible. Your testing mostly depends on your situation and symptoms and is decided by your healthcare provider.

For example, if you’re sick and wondering whether your symptoms can be caused by COVID-19, a rapid test can be helpful because it allows you to get the answer quickly and isolate yourself from others to reduce the spread of the virus.

However, if you don’t have symptoms then taking a test beforehand allows you to check whether you may be sick or not. For that, go with a PCR test to get an accurate result.

In case your antigen test comes negative, and you still have symptoms, then taking a PCR test allows you to get an accurate result.

Your healthcare provider will decide the test for you depending on your health and symptoms. But it also depends on what test is readily available or in greater supply. Tests can also be chosen based on the probability of having the virus. If you have symptoms, most commonly an antigen test is recommended for quick results. If you don’t have symptoms but still want the test, then PCR is recommended.

Getting any test is good for you if you get an accurate result. However, if your antigen test comes back negative and you still have symptoms then you should take a PCR test for accurate results to confirm whether you have COVID or not.

Rapid COVID testing and PCR tests are both good options for testing COVID-19. Both tests have their benefits or drawbacks, you can choose the test you like to take. However, if you have doubts about your negative rapid COVID test then taking PCR is a better option to get accurate results.

If you need COVID testing, visit our clinic in Brooklyn for testing or medical support. Doral Health and Wellness has several urgent care clinics around New York that can cater to your family’s medical needs. We also have the best medical providers, physicians and staff that are highly trained in their respective specialties. To know more about the locations of our urgent care clinics, you can visit us at Doral Health and Wellness. If you are looking for urgent care near you, you can visit Doral Health and Wellness Urgent Care. We provide urgent care for common illnesses and injuries. Additionally, we also provide comprehensive care for any related injuries and health problems. We also offer other services, such as vaccinations, immunizations, and blood testing. For more info, visit us or call 1-347-384-5690.