The Latest in COVID-19 Testing Methods in California

For Angelinos trying to obtain a Covid-19 test, it can be overwhelming to know which test you need or how to get them. Below is a breakdown of the different types of Covid-19 tests and their accessibility.

How tests work

To better understand how tests work and what their limitations are, it is important to understand how they detect the Covid-19 virus. Viruses are genetic material wrapped in proteins. When they infect someone, they attack healthy cells and create more virus cells. 

Tests used to identify people who are currently infected look for either the genetic material of the virus itself, or by looking for the proteins that contain each virus cell.

Tests used to determine if someone had Covid-19 in the past look for antibodies produced by the body when defending itself from the virus. These blood tests are only administered in certain circumstances by healthcare professionals, so we will not be covering them in detail. 

Types of test for current infection

PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Test

  • Detects the genetic material of the Covid-19 virus
  • Typically administered via nose swab, but can be saliva or throat swabs as well
  • There are two types:
    • RT-PCR 
      • Most accurate test, considered “gold standard” of Covid-19 testing
      • Requires lab processing, producing results in 48-72 hours
    • Rapid Molecular test 
      • Slightly less accurate than RT-PCR, but more accurate than Antigen
      • Produces results in 30 minutes or less, no lab processing required
  • Accuracy can be affected by user error in self administered tests

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Who should take this test

  • People with Covid-19 symptoms
  • People with known exposure to someone with a confirmed case
  • Asymptomatic people who are instructed to test as part of an outbreak detection and response plan

How to get PCR tests in LA

  • Free LA County testing sites
  • Some private clinics
  • Healthcare providers and onsite medical service providers that offer PCR Tests in LA (they test you at your house)
  • DIY Kits:
    • Processing time for DIY RT-PCR kits is 3-14 days depending on the lab and mail delivery times
    • There are no Rapid Molecular tests authorized by the FDA for use by the general public at this time – these tests are only available from health care professionals.

Rapid Antigen Test

  • Detects viral proteins
  • Can be administered via nose or throat swab
  • Does not require lab processing and produces results in 15 minutes
  • Less accurate than PCR

Who should take this test

  • People with Covid-19 symptoms (Note: Test should be taken within 5 days of symptoms developing)

How to get antigen tests in LA: 

  • Healthcare providers/onsite medical service providers
  • DIY kits
    • Not yet widely available (still in production)
    • Expected to debut at a higher price, but eventually cost $30 per kit

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Obtaining Covid-19 testing at home

Los Angeles residents who need Covid-19 testing options which reduce the risk of transmission may want to consider utilizing onsite medical service providers like Concierge MD LA, Fernhealth, Becore to get tested at your house. They will send a nurse to your home with all the materials necessary to administer the test to you and your household. They can also offer guidance regarding next steps if someone tests positive. People who may especially benefit from getting tested at home include:

  • Patients with long Covid who need regular testing as part of treatment and want to stay isolated from caretakers and loved ones to protect them
  • Vulnerable persons not yet fully vaccinated and those in their households or social bubbles
  • People with physical or mental conditions who need or want professional assistance in administering the test
  • Young children, as well as children with mental health conditions 

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