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Rapid COVID-19 Testing Frequently Asked Questions

Last updated: December 14, 2020

What is a rapid COVID-19 test?

A rapid COVID-19 test, also called an antigen test, detects proteins from the virus which causes COVID-19. This type of test is considered most accurate in those individuals who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. Rapid tests allow public health to detect disease sooner, decrease spread faster and start contact tracing earlier.

What is a PCR COVID-19 test?

A PCR test, also called a molecular test or polymerase chain reaction test, detects genetic material specific to the virus that causes COVID-19. PCR testing is considered the “gold standard” in COVID-19 detection and is often more accurate than a rapid test, especially in individuals without symptoms. The PCR COVID-19 test does take longer to get results which leads to delays in decreasing the spread of the virus.

How are specimens collected?

In both the rapid test and PCR test, specimens are collected using a nasal swab. A swab is inserted into each nostril, one side at a time, approximately one inch. The swab is then rotated around the inside of each nostril, approx five times, to gather mucous.

Who should get a rapid test?

  • Close contacts of a positive case should be tested three to five days after exposure.
  • Individuals in certain high risk groups and vulnerable populations
    • Congregate living settings
    • First responders
    • Healthcare workers
    • Older adults and individuals with underlying health conditions
  • Individuals with COVID-19-like illness symptoms

PCR tests may be required in certain situations, such as travel, by your employer and by daycares and schools.

How long will it take to get my results?

Rapid test results will be available the day of specimen collection. PCR test results typically take two to three days. When demand is high, PCR results can take a week or longer.

How will I get my rapid test results?

A Department of Health representative will call you the day of specimen collection with your result.

How accurate are my rapid test results?

Positive results are usually highly accurate but negative results may need to be confirmed with a PCR test. Rapid tests being used by the Anne Arundel County Department of Health are most effective one to five days after symptoms start.

What does it mean if I have a positive rapid test result?

If you have a positive test result, it is very likely that you have COVID-19. A contact tracing team member will reach out to you in the next 24 to 48 hours. The phone number will come up on your caller ID as a 410-222-XXXX or MD COVID. There is a very small chance that this test can give a positive result that is wrong (a false positive result). If you are concerned about this, you can return for follow-up PCR testing.

What does it mean if I have a negative rapid test result?

A negative test result means that proteins from the virus that causes COVID-19 were not found in your sample. It is possible for this test to give a negative result that is incorrect (false negative). This means that possibly you could still have COVID-19 even though the test is negative. The amount of antigen in a sample may decrease the longer you have symptoms of infection. Specimens collected after you have had symptoms for more than seven days may be more likely to produce a negative result.

What should I do if my rapid test result comes back negative, but I have COVID-19 symptoms?

Current recommendations are to have a PCR test completed if your symptoms persist and you have had a negative rapid test. This is especially true if you have had a direct exposure (meaning closer than 6 feet of an individual for more than 15 minutes) to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. If you are concerned about this, you can return for follow-up PCR testing.

How much does a rapid test cost?

At this time, rapid COVID-19 tests performed at Anne Arundel County Department of Health sites are being provided at no cost to Maryland residents.

General Prevention Recommendations for COVID-19

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The CDC recommends the following preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases at work.

  • Wear a mask in public settings around people who don’t live in your household and when you cannot stay 6 feet away from others. Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19 to others.
  • Continue to avoid contact with coworkers and clients by replacing face-to-face meetings with virtual communications.
  • Maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet at all times.
  • Do not use others’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment if possible.
  • Routinely disinfect all work surfaces.
  • Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Practice proper respiratory etiquette, including coughing and sneezing into the back of your elbow or into a tissue. Immediately throw away the tissue and wash your hands.

For more information, call the COVID-19 Health Line – 410-222-7256 or email

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