COVID-19 Symptoms and Testing

1. Diagnostic Tests
Assesses the presence of the virus at a given point in time. A negative means only that an individual was negative at the time the test.

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Tests and Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing:  Detects the RNA genetic material in the COVID-19 virus and are often collected via nasal pharyngeal; mid turbinate; nasal, oral or throat swab; or saliva collection.
  • Antigen Tests: Not currently widely utilized. Detects the presence of COVID-19 specific protein particles and is collected via a respiratory sample.

2. Non-Diagnostic Tests

  • Serology (Antibody) Tests: Detect antibodies in the blood indicating possible prior exposure to COVID-19, which may develop 6-14 days after infection.

Note: No test is perfect. There is a false negative rate and false positive rate that varies depending on the test and the collection modality. Accuracy of antigen tests may be problematic due to poor sensitivity.

Antigen test cards are a timely, quick and easy-to-use tool for communities to receive rapid COVID-19 testing.  Antigen tests look for pieces of proteins that make up the SARS-CoV-2 virus. On Wednesday, October 14, the Department of Health began distributing rapid antigen test cards to Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA)-certified institutions across Pennsylvania by county. As of March 2021, over 2.9M tests have been distributed to over 1,000 locations.

​Check with your insurance company. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and CARES Act do not require an insurance company to pay for a test unless you have symptoms or a known or recent exposure to COVID-19 and it has been determined to be medically necessary for you by an attending healthcare provider.

View more information about COVID-19 testing insurance coverage.

​Through the work of a number of entities, testing is accessible for Pennsylvanians. As entities such as pharmacies offer testing (some still require symptoms), more Pennsylvanians can get tested close to home. While most COVID-19 tests are performed using a nasopharyngeal (NP) swab, many of the publicly accessible sites are using anterior nasal or nasal swabs that are less invasive. Where an NP swab is inserted deep enough to contact the nasopharynx at the back of the nasal cavity administered by a medical professional, a nasal swab is only inserted roughly 0.5 inches inside the nostril and can be self-administered. Both of these collection methods can be a bit uncomfortable, but neither should be painful.  

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH), in partnership with Concentric by Ginkgo Bioworks (Ginkgo), is offering COVID-19 testing services at no cost to all K-12 Schools across the Commonwealth, with the exception of schools within Philadelphia county, for the entire 2021-2022 school year.  

This K-12 testing program is voluntary and free for schools and participants. Participating schools can choose from three testing options when opting in the program: pooled testing, individual diagnostic PCR testing, and individual diagnostic rapid point of care (POC) antigen testing. Learn more about these types of testing offered by Ginkgo. Participating schools that plan to administer Point of Care (POC) antigen testing onsite may utilize the Department of Health’s Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) Certificate of Waiver to comply with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) laboratory testing regulations.  

To opt in to this K–12 COVID-19 school testing program, school leaders must complete the Statement of Assurances form and submit the completed form to RA-DHK12COVIDTEST@pa.gov. Upon submission of the completed Statement of Assurances form, the school will be deemed an “Authorized School” for participation in the program.

View the K-12 Pooled Testing Guidance.

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