With the novel coronavirus still dominating the headlines, research is still underway to create the perfect vaccine and develop a foolproof testing method for the virus. The good news is that there are a couple of reliable tests available to diagnose COVID-19.

Since the virus spreads through respiratory droplets, people working in high-density settings for longer durations are at high risk of getting exposed to COVID. The risk is even higher for workers who commute via public transportation and ride-sharing vehicles.

As such, it makes sense to test employees regularly. In particular, indivduals who have symptoms of COVID-19 and those who have been within 6 feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more must get tested. COVID serial testing (tests conducted at different points in time) is effective in detecting critical infections among your employees who’ve had multiple exposures.

But which test is the best choice for your company? There are two main tests for coronavirus, and each of them is useful at different times of exposure to the virus. To understand which one you should take, you have to know the differences between the two.

The Difference between PCR and Antigen Tests

The two most common testing methods used to identify coronavirus infection are the PCR test (aka RT-PCR, molecular, Nucleic Acid Amplification -NAA) and the antigen test. Both of them require a swab sample from the nose or throat, or sometimes saliva. Either can determine whether you are infected. But that’s where the similarities end.

What is the PCR Test for COVID-19?

The most reliable test for diagnosing coronavirus is the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. It diagnoses whether a person currently has COVID-19. A positive test means s/he is probably infected, and a negative test means s/he probably is not. The PCR test detects the virus from genetic material called RNA that makes its proteins from a specific organism – in this case, from the virus’s body.

The sample for the PCR test is sent to a lab. Here special reagents are used to heat and cool the sample. This process allows the reagents to convert the RNA back to DNA and then make millions of copies of them so that the organism can be easily identified. This process is time-consuming but is almost 100% accurate in generating a diagnosis.

What is the Antigen Test for COVID-19?

An antigen test is an antibody generator test. Antibodies are protective proteins produced by the body’s immune system when the body recognizes a foreign body within itself – such as a virus. These antibodies are deployed to capture and destroy the invading organism. The antigen test uses antibodies to identify the antigen (virus proteins).

Most antigen tests are rapid tests and produce a result in about 15 minutes. They work by mixing the swab sample with a special solution. This causes specific proteins from the virus to be released. The solution is then applied to a paper containing an antibody strip – the particular antibodies bind to these virus proteins. Some antigen tests are read by an analyzer, and produce an instrumented result. Others are read like a home pregnancy test.

This process takes around 15 minutes, but the speed comes at the cost of sensitivity. The test shows precise results for high viral loads, but it may yield a false-negative result for low amounts of the virus. The CDC recommend serial testing when utilizing the antigen test.

Note: If you need a negative COVID-19 test for travel, make sure you understand the requirements of your destination and the airline. Many will not accept a rapid test or an antigen test.

The Need for COVID Testing in the Workplace

Testing is critical to identify and contain the spread of coronavirus in the workplace. Many workers have prolonged contact with each other and may commute with other people (public transport). This increases the risk of exposure and infection. Employers have an obligation to protect the health of employees in the workplace and people want to feel safe coming to work.

InOut Labs provides screening and testing for coronavirus in the workplace. We can identify both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals via our specialized testing methods and save you the costs of not testing, including lost production, quarantine, and risk of shutdown.