Covid-19 Testing



Screening for COVID-19 infection to prevent transmission in schools is important because many people have COVID-19 infections but never develop symptoms, and even those who do become ill may be infectious – that means they are able to spread the virus – for days before they show signs of illness. This is especially true for young children. 

There are three main groups of tests for COVID-19. Two types will tell you if you currently have an infection. One type, antibody testing, will tell you if you already had a COVID-19 infection.

PCR Testing

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are the most widely used tests for detecting COVID-19. A PCR generally must be performed in a qualified laboratory, costs up to $120, and can take 1 to 3 days to get results depending on transportation, demand and laboratory turnaround. 

PCR is the gold standard for detecting COVID-19 infection, but because it is so sensitive it can also detect the virus in people who are recovering but no longer infectious.  

Rapid Antigen Testing

Positive rapid antigen tests should be confirmed with PCR, although the person testing positive should be isolated after the rapid test. In certain other situations PCR should also be performed, such as a person with symptoms who has a negative rapid test. 

SOS is using the Abbott BinaxNOW test, a rapid antigen test with high accuracy, making it feasible and appropriate for screening large numbers of people once or twice a week to detect infection.

Though rapid antigen tests detect slightly fewer infected persons than PCR tests, the quick results allow the school to take prompt action to isolate infected and exposed members of the school community. In some cases a rapid antigen test should be followed by a PCR test, for example if someone has symptoms but tests negative, or if someone has no symptoms and tests positive.

There are a number of different rapid tests approved for use outside of clinical laboratories with the appropriate CLIA waiver. Some have also been approved for home use.

Go to the FDA website to learn more about COVID-19 Rapid Antigen Tests with FDA emergency use authorization.

    Antibody Testing

    Antibody tests indicate whether or not a person has had a COVID-19 infection in the past, not whether or not they are currently infected. These tests measure the presence of antibodies to the virus in the blood which indicate immunity, not the presence of the virus. Antibody tests cannot be used for school testing outside of research or surveillance projects to look at past infection.

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      Safely Opening Schools is a project of the Public Health Institute, (PHI) PHI has been a leader in public health and development for over 50 years. PHI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a vision of creating healthy communities where individuals reach their highest potential. Safely Opening Schools is part of PHIs Prevention Policy Group, which works on policy approaches involved in safely opening public schools after Covid-19.