Antigen vs. PCR Test: Which is Best?

Antigen vs. PCR Test

In today’s pandemic climate, we at DriverCheck are often asked “which COVID-19 test is best: rapid antigen or PCR (molecular)?” Well, for anyone who has ever swung a hammer at a nail, or painted a wall with a brush, the short answer is quite simple: it depends on the job at hand.

Certainly, the job for most, if not all, organizations is to keep its employees, visitors and communities safe by preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the workplace.  But which test to use – and when – will require a deeper understanding of their key differences.  

Antigen Test PCR Test
Detects Proteins Found on Virus Genetic material from virus
Performed by Anyone1 Healthcare Professionals only
Technical Requirements Do-it-yourself, at-home Laboratory with specialized equipment
Sensitivity Highest 2-days before symptoms appear Highest when
symptoms appear
Time for Results 15-20 minutes  24-72 hours
Cost per Test $25-$30 $80-$200

 Beyond detecting different biological markers, antigen and PCR tests clearly differ with respect to their ease-of-use, sensitivity, timing, and cost.  

PCR tests for COVID-19 are used to diagnose people who are currently infected with SARS-CoV-2. That is, anyone who is experiencing a symptom is recommended to seek a PCR test to confirm infectivity, as this is when its sensitivity is the highest.  

However, because symptoms typically don’t appear until five days after exposure to COVID-19, someone who is undergoing a PCR test (only upon becoming symptomatic) has been freely roaming our offices, schools, playgrounds, restaurants, factories and communities. In turn, unknowingly spreading the virus to people around them. It is this asymptomatic period that is most concerning and necessitates another tool for everyday use… namely, antigen testing.  

Antigen vs. PCR Test

Because antigen tests are better at picking up infectiousness two days before PCR, it is a critical tool to stop the spread of COVID-19 by asymptomatic people. Moreover, since rapid antigen tests are inexpensive, can be performed at home, don’t require healthcare professional intervention, and provide reliable results in only 15-20 minutes – this test is very effective for the ongoing medical surveillance of this sneaky virus.  

Although PCR tests are viewed as the “gold standard” by some public health agencies – its applicability is clearly limited to confirming infection. However, if you’re tasked with returning your company back to “normal”, waiting five days to confirm an infection by PCR will feel like a lifetime. Don’t be caught off guard but instead, proactively share rapid antigen testing kits with your employees, students and visitors. These tests are easy-to-use, cost-effective, and the results can be reported back to your organization in real-time with online platforms, like COVIDdetect.  

No one ever said that returning to normal will be easy. But when armed with the right knowledge, you can take control of the health and safety of your workplace by implementing appropriate testing and tracing protocols.  Use the right tools, for the right job.