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Speed and Accuracy of COVID-19 Testing

Robert H. Christenson, PhD, University of Maryland, explains the ways speed and accuracy are weighed when testing is deployed to detect COVID-19.


CDC Testing Tips:

1. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested, call your healthcare provider first. Most people will have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care and may not need to be tested.

CDC has guidance for who should be tested, but decisions about testing are made by state and local health departments and healthcare providers.

You can also visit your state or local health department’s website to look for the latest local information on testing.

2. COVID-19 testing differs by location. You can also visit your state or local health department’s website to look for the latest local information on testing.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized viral tests that let you collect either a nasal swab or a saliva sample at home. However, you will still need to send your sample to a laboratory for analysis.

3.  Antibody tests for COVID-19, used to detect past infection, are also available through healthcare providers and laboratories.

Check with your healthcare provider to see if they offer antibody tests and whether you should get one.

A positive test result shows you might have antibodies from an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there is a chance a positive result means that you have antibodies from an infection with a virus from the same family of viruses (called coronaviruses), such as the one that causes the common cold.
The CDC 2019-nCoV Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel contains 4 reagents:

There are 3 primer-probe mixes for:
  • 2019-nCoV_N1: targets virus nucleocapsid (N) gene for specific detection of SARS-CoV-2
  • 2019-nCoV_N2: targets virus nucleocapsid (N) gene for specific detection of SARS-CoV-2
  • RP: targets human RNase P gene for detection of human nucleic acids; control for sample integrity
As well as a 4th noninfectious positive control material which yields a positive result in each assay included in the panel.
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