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COVID-19 Testing

COVID-19 Testing

COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease of 2019 and is a disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. A “novel coronavirus” simply means that this is a new type of coronavirus. A coronavirus describes a family of several viruses that have crown-like spikes around it, hence the word “corona”, which is Latin for crown.

The variety of testing platforms for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) available today can be rather confusing. There are some clear indications as to which test you should get and some not so clear reasons. A diagnostic test can show if you have an active coronavirus infection and should take steps to quarantine or isolate yourself from others.

Who needs testing for COVID-19?

You should get tested for COVID-19 if any of the following has happened within the last 14 days:

  • You developed symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You were in close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) with a person who has COVID-19.
  • You have been contacted and referred for testing by a healthcare provider, or your local or state health department.

If you are traveling to another country, you may also need to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Please call our office to check if one is needed and to schedule an appointment.

If you have planned surgery or being admitted to hospital, you may also require a test.

Types of Tests for COVID-19

There are 2 different types of COVID-19 diagnostic tests.

  1. PCR tests (also known as molecular tests) which detect genetic material from the virus which causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2. PCR tests amplify genetic materials to detect small quantities of the virus in active infections.
  2. Antigen tests detect specific proteins made by the virus.

There is a 3rd type of COVID-19-related test – an antibody or serology test, which shows if you’ve been infected with the virus in the past. Antibodies are proteins your body makes in order to help fight infection and develop immunity. An antibody test cannot tell someone if they currently have COVID-19. It can only tell someone if they may have had it in the past.

Rapid PCR

Polymerous chain reaction, or PCR, is a molecular technology that amplifies COVID-19’s ribonucleic acid (RNA), which are the building blocks of the virus. A PCR test detects RNA (or genetic material) that is specific to the virus and can detect the virus within days of infection, even those who have no symptoms.


Both Rapid and RT-PCR tests are the most accurate form available today and are considered the gold standard for COVID-19 testing. However, RNA tests are highly sensitive. Tests can remain positive even after somebody is no longer sick and no longer shedding the virus which can infect other people.

How Long do Rapid PCR Test Results Take?

Approximately 18 minutes.

Rapid Antigen

Antigen tests detect a protein that is part of the coronavirus. These tests are particularly useful for identifying a person who is at or near peak infection. Rapid antigen tests can be used for screening testing in high-risk settings where a lot of people meet and share a space for a period of time. Repeat testing could quickly identify persons with a SARS-CoV-2 infection to inform infection prevention and control measures.


Antigen tests are highly accurate. If you test positive, it’s probably correct. The problem is, these tests are more likely to miss active infection. There is a little lag time between when someone gets infected and when the antigens show up.  If a person is not near peak infection – but is still contagious – the tests may come back negative. If you have COVID symptoms but test negative, we may order a molecular test just to rule out a false negative.

How Long do Rapid Antigen Test Results Take?

Results take about 10 mins


Reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing is considered the “gold standard” in SARS-CoV-2 detection. RT-PCR is a laboratory-based technique used for detecting and comparing the levels of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and the surface proteins in a sample, particularly samples with limited quantities of RNA.

Polymerous chain reaction, or PCR, is a molecular technology that amplifies COVID-19’s ribonucleic acid (RNA), which are the building blocks of the virus. A PCR test detects RNA (or genetic material) that is specific to the virus and can detect the virus within days of infection, even those who have no symptoms.

If you’re traveling internationally, a negative RT-PCR test is usually requested in order to enter the country. Please check with your travel company as to what proof is required.


PCR tests are the most accurate form available today and are considered the gold standard for COVID-19 testing.

How Long do RT-PCR Test Results Take?

Results arrive within 48 hours. The viral replication process takes time, and they are sent to a special lab for processing.


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Overview of COVID Test Results

  • If you get a PCR test and you are negative for COVID-19, you did not have the virus when the test was done. If you have respiratory symptoms, it could be something other than COVID-19, so we’ll likely recommend testing for other health conditions.
  • If you get an antigen test and your results are negative, you still may have the virus. If your antigen test results are positive, you definitely have a COVID-19 infection.
  • If you test negative, but later start to show symptoms of COVID-19, you may need to be tested again.

What to Expect during a COVID-19 Test

All types of tests use nasal swabs, which look like a long Q-tip. The actual test takes less than a minute. We insert the nasal swab a few inches up each nostril and swirl it around for 10-15 seconds. You may experience a tickling sensation while the swab is in your nose, and after it is removed, you might sneeze or have runny eyes for a moment or two. The swab is sent to the lab for testing.

What should I bring to my COVID Test Appointment?

  • Please wear a mask covering your nose and mouth when you arrive at our clinic.
  • Bring your appointment confirmation email.
  • Bring your proof of medical insurance.
  • You will be asked to complete a consent to treatment form. We can email that to you ahead of time, or come early and fill out this form at our office.

Common Questions about COVID-19 Testing

How Much Does a COVID Test Cost?

Please check with your insurance company as many of them cover 100% of the costs.

Which COVID Test is the Most Accurate?

RT-PCR testing is considered the most accurate test to see if you are infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Do I Need a Rapid PCR Test or a Rapid Antigen Test?

A rapid PCR test is more accurate at detecting if you are infected with the COVID-19 virus.

What is the Difference Between PCR Nasal Swab and an Antigen Test?

Antigen tests detect proteins given off by the virus during the peak of the infection cycle, but are not as sensitive as molecular PCR tests. You may get a negative result with antigen testing if you are infected but not near the peak of your infection cycle. This means that there is a higher chance of false negatives than with many molecular tests

Is Nasal Swabbing More Reliable Than Throat Swabs or Saliva Tests?

A molecular test using a deep nasal swab is usually the best option, because it will have fewer false negative results than other diagnostic tests such as saliva or throat swabs.

How Long Does it Take to Test Positive for COVID When Exposed?

It can take almost a week after exposure to COVID-19 to register a positive test result.

Evidence suggests that testing tends to be less accurate within three days of exposure, and the best time to get tested is five to seven days after you were exposed. Tests are even more accurate when patients are exhibiting symptoms.

COVID-19’s incubation period lasts up to 14 days. If you have the virus, it takes time to build up in your system. Testing too close to an exposure could result in samples that don’t contain enough of the virus’ genetic material to register as a positive. A COVID-19 test is limited in that it represents only a snapshot in time.

How Can Diagnostic Testing Reduce the Spread of COVID-19?

With COVID-19 diagnostic testing, people who test positive and have symptoms can get care earlier. Contacts can be traced and self-isolation or quarantine started sooner to help stop the spread of the virus.

Can I Test Negative and Then Later Test Positive?

Test results reflect the state of illness at the time when you are tested. A negative PCR test does not mean that an individual is free of infection, but rather only that, at that particular moment, the sample did not contain viral levels at a high enough concentration to be measured as a positive.

If you are in the early stages of infection, it’s possible the test will not detect the virus and come back negative.

Tips to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19

  • Wear a face mask. Cloth masks aren’t as effective as other types of masks, such as surgical masks or N95 respirators.
  • Social distance – maintain 6 feet distance.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home (self-quarantine) when you are sick.
  • Do not share personal items like phones, makeup or combs.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to the virus.

Signs That You May Have COVID-19

A wide range of symptoms have been reported for people infected with COVID-19 from mild to severe. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. If you have one of more of the following symptoms, you may have been infected with the COVID-19 virus. The common flu virus, the common cold, or other respiratory diseases may also produce these symptoms, so don’t jump to any conclusions or worry before speaking to one of our doctors at NJ Primary Care.

  • Cough.
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
  • Sore throat.
  • Congestion or runny nose.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of taste or smell.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

As Jersey City’s premier primary care facility, your health and well-being is our top priority. Call our office today if you or a family member has any signs of COVID-19. Our friendly staff will get you scheduled in to see a doctor ASAP.

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