What Are the Different Types of COVID-19 Tests?

Many people search the internet for the topic of COVID-19 testing; specifically, what are the different types of COVID-19 tests?

To obtain accurate information, always look for reputable sources in your internet searches. In this case, we get information from the American Society of Microbiology (ASM). According to the ASM website, there are two types of tests approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): the nucleic acid amplification tests and the antibody tests.


The nucleic acid amplification test is the nasal swab test you hear people talking about. Other names for this test are polymerise chain reaction (PCR) tests, ribonucleic acid (RNA) tests or virus genetic tests. That’s your answer; the RNA test is the nasal swab test given to determine whether a person is currently ill with COVID-19. but do you understand what this means? Please read on.

The RNA test involves testing respiratory samples. These can be any of the following: the nasal swab, oropharyngeal swab, sputum, or bronchoalveolar lavage test. By now, everyone has heard of the very long swab (think long Q tip) being inserted through the nose and swabbing the back of the nose/throat. That’s the nasal swab test. The oropharyngeal swab involves the same long Q tip being inserted into the mouth and swabbing the back of the upper throat. Sputum collection involves coughing up secretions from the lungs and spitting into a cup.The bronchoalveolar lavage test will be performed in a hospital/clinic setting and is not available at home. But however, the nasopharyngeal (nose and throat) specimen is obtained, it’s tested for presence of active COVID-19 viral infection.

After the RNA test swabs, sputum or bronchoalveolar lavage are obtained, the lab processing involves extracting ribonucleic acid (RNA) from the specimen and processing the specimen. The final results are interpreted to show a positive or negative presence of the COVID-19 viral presence. If positive, the results show an active viral infection.

COVID-19 Antibody Test

The second type of COVID-19 tests are the antibody (serology) tests. This blood test is commonly known as the antibody blood test. This testing involves a small amount of blood being drawn from the person being tested; his/her blood is then tested to check for previous exposure to the coronavirus and presence of antibodies.

Antibodies–a protection against future infections

Antibodies are a protein our bodies produce during an exposure to viruses and bacteria; antibodies are a crucial part of our immune system. After we are exposed to a virus or bacteria and antibodies are created, the antibodies recognize those specific viruses and bacteria during any future exposure and immediately begin to protect us.

Antibodies–the result of Vaccines

We are talking about antibodies from exposure to a virus or bacteria which helps protect a person from any future exposures. That’s exactly what a vaccine does–a small amount of the virus/bacteria (may be dead, may be alive, depending on the vaccine) is grown and turned into a vaccine antigen. When injected into a person, his/her immune system identifies the antigen (vaccine product) and creates antibodies which will protect that person from future exposures to that virus/bacteria. We are not bringing up a controversial topic here; this is the simple science behind a vaccine.

Who should be tested for each of the different types of COVID-19 tests and when?

You might think by now that anyone can ask for and receive testing. Unfortunately, there’s still not enough test kits for everyone to receive testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a person experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 call his/her healthcare provider OR local health departments for their advice. After answering screening questions, these health care providers will direct you on testing sites.

Remember the RNA test determines whether you are currently ill with the COVID-19 virus. There have been some county-wide testing initiatives across the United States. Some pharmacies and retail companies have partnered with HHS.gov to provide testing to Americans. Some are even providing testing at no cost to the person who is eligible for testing (passes the screening questions which indicate potential COVIDd-19 infection). There are also some home tests which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved for sale.

Who can administer a COVID-19 test?

Licensed clinical pharmacists can administer the COVID-19 tests. Doctors, nurses, advanced practice practitioners (nurse practitioners and physician assistants), and lab technologists all have the skills to perform the tests.

Factors in Accurate COVID-19 Testing

The accuracy of both RNA (nasal swab test) and antibody tests (blood tests) depends on several factors: type of testing, timing of tests and proper testing routines.

  • The RNA tests (not urine or blood tests) are appropriate for identifying the presence of COVID-19 virus during early illness.
  • If a person gets tested too soon (not enough of viral RNA is present) a false negative result can occur. One study identified the first five days of COVID-19 infection as having the highest virus level in the nose and throat areas. After day 5, the nose/throat area quantity of virus level had decreased by 40%. Other studies varied on the optimal testing time frame.
  • Proper testing procedures have been outlined to guide proper handling and testing for COVID-19 infections.

What should you do with a positive RNA COVID-19 test result?

The American Society of Microbiology answers this question: “if you test positive for SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19), you should self-isolate, call your doctor(health care provider, county health clinic) if your symptoms worsen and seek medical help immediately if your condition becomes critical.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gives guidance on home isolation.

Now you know the difference between RNA testing vs. Antibody testing

We find ourselves on August 6, 2020 with COVID-19 still affecting people, here are current numbers: As of August 6, 2020, 64,920,920 COVID-19 test results have been reported with 5,823,345 positive test results. That’s 9% of the people tested for COVID-19 being positive when tested. So this isn’t over yet. We can take comfort in the fact that most people who become ill with COVID have mild cases that are not life threatening. Unfortunately, a few people become really ill.

How do we live our lives and protect ourselves from the COVID-19 virus? There have been differing opinions among scientists and healthcare professionals of the best ways to protect yourself which has caused confusion among the public. CDC still recommends the original healthy habits: wash your hands (use hand sanitizer if not available), wear a mask when in public, and stay at least 6 feet away from people outside your home and family.