Person holding rapid covid antigen positive result with home test kit on background

How Long Do Rapid COVID Test Results Take?

Feeling sick with a potential coronavirus case and need an answer on how long rapid COVID-19 tests take? We’ve covered the basics here.

April 01, 2022

We’re over two years into the pandemic, and the need for COVID-19 testing is ongoing. Although mask mandates have been lifted in some regions, new variants like delta and omicron continue to emerge. When they do, your risk of catching the virus increases.

To meet this demand, the FDA has authorized emergency use of rapid COVID-19 testing and approved certain at-home testing kits. The good news is that testing options are currently plentiful. The less-great news? If you suspect you have the virus, you may be anxious about how long it takes to receive your results.

Fortunately, we can provide you with some clarity on how long rapid COVID tests do take.

Disclaimer: This article isn’t intended as professional medical advice. For concerns about your COVID-19 status, please contact your healthcare provider.

What is a rapid COVID-19 test?

Rapid COVID-19 tests are take-home test kits that detect viral loads of the coronavirus in your body. The rapid tests use a swab to collect a sample and a portable applicator to process results.

Benefits of fast COVID testing:

  • It frees up testing bottlenecks in healthcare facilities. 

  • Quick test results allow you to self-isolate safely.

  • Take-home tests can detect the coronavirus even if you’ve been fully vaccinated.

Downsides of at-home COVID testing:

  • Results can be less accurate than standardized laboratory testing.

  • A false positive or negative result will require additional testing.

  • Supplies can run low during a COVID surge.


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Types of rapid COVID-19 tests

At present, you’ll find two types of tests available for purchase: antigen tests and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

1. Antigen tests

Antigen tests have been given emergency authorization by the FDA. To administer the test, you use a nasal swab to collect viral loads and genetic material. Then a portable applicator will process the results.

How is the antigen test done? On average, each kit takes 15 minutes to process results, which is convenient if you need to test frequently. Some excellent over-the-counter (OTC) options you can purchase include the Carestart COVID-19 Antigen Home Test and On/Go COVID-19 Antigen Rapid 10-Minute Self-Test Kit. Both come with multiple tests per kit that can provide your results within an hour.

2. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests

PCR tests use reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction to determine if you have COVID-19. This process works by copying the genetic material in your sample then comparing its sequence to the COVID data on hand. You’ll receive your results at home, and if there’s a match, you’re infected.

Although PCR tests aren’t as readily available as antigen tests, you can purchase some PCR tests over the counter. 

How accurate are rapid COVID tests?

The PCR produces more accurate results, but this option takes longer to complete. Rapid antigen tests give you quicker results but have a higher risk of false negatives.

The accuracy of your test can be influenced by when you test, too. If you were recently exposed to someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and you administer a test right away, the viral load within your body may not be enough for the applicator to detect. 


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How long will the results take?

The result times from rapid testing can vary, especially if you need to retest because of a false negative result.

For antigen tests:

  • Rapid antigen test results arrive within 10 minutes to several days, depending on how your test is processed.

  • Tests can be completed at home, eliminating your wait time for results. You’ll only need to wait 15 minutes.

For PCR tests:

  • PCR test results can be processed at home or sent to a lab for inspection.

  • Turnaround time is slower, ranging from several hours to days depending on the processing method and volume of testing.

Do rapid COVID tests work if you take them at the wrong time?

It depends. Testing too soon prevents the test from detecting a viral load large enough to register as positive, even if you’re currently infected.

Here are some general guidelines on when to test:

  • If you had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and you’re not up to date on your vaccinations, you should self-isolate. Complete your testing at least five days after exposure.

  • If you display symptoms of COVID-19, test as soon as possible.

  • If you need to test before attending an event, perform the test on the same day or just before. COVID-19 tests register viral loads at the time of application, so if you’re exposed to SARS-CoV-2 between the time of your test and your event, you could be infected and not even realize it.

If you’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine and been exposed to the virus, you should complete a take-home antigen test. You may be infected but display milder symptoms.



Where to get a rapid COVID-19 test

Supply levels of specific brand names can fluctuate during a COVID surge, but you can start searching for a COVID-19 test in a few common places. 

1. Pharmacies

Pharmacies can offer no-cost testing solutions for people who meet certain criteria in age, symptoms, and pre-existing conditions. Tests can be processed on-site, ensuring higher accuracy.

Be aware that results can take longer to arrive, especially if there’s a heavy caseload during a surge.

2. Medical facilities

Doctor’s offices and walk-in testing clinics may keep rapid tests on hand, although supplies can fluctuate during a surge. If you’re entering an area with multiple individuals suspected of test-positive results, and your own test ends up negative, you may inadvertently expose yourself to the virus.

3. Order online

Ordering your COVID tests online is by far the safest option. And in some cases — depending on where you live — it’s the quickest. Gopuff offers same-day delivery on COVID-19 test kits, many of which are authorized for use by the FDA. You can include cough, cold, and flu medication to help manage milder symptoms.

What you can do if you have COVID-19

If you end up with a positive result and want to avoid spreading it to everyone in your household, here are some tips to keep your home clean and soothe your symptoms.

  • Make sure your apartment or house is clean, including your shower head where germs tend to accumulate.

  • Clean your humidifier to ensure it functions properly and keeps your air filtered and not too humid.

  • Eat nutritious foods, drink plenty of water, and bake some comforting treats if you have the energy.

If you received a negative test result, be sure to follow your local public health guidelines to ensure everyone’s protection from COVID-19 infection.

Symptoms or no symptoms, you can order your groceries, supplies, and COVID tests online from Gopuff. Stock your cart with cleaning supplies, healthy ingredients, and we’ll deliver your goods right to your door.

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