RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — This week, Wake County Public Health is beginning to scale down its COVID testing options in preparation for closing its 5 drive-thru testing sites by the end of next month.
With those sites closing, we wanted to find out what testing options you’ll have and the differences between PCR tests and at-home tests.
When Virginia and John Musselman came down with COVID symptoms, their rapid tests turned up negative—at first.
“But the symptoms continued to get worse,” Virginia said, so they got a different kind of rapid test.
Even after John tested positive, Virginia tested negative for another day. Then, when she tested with two different brands of tests, she said one was negative and another positive.
Dr. Melissa Miller, the director of the Clinical Microbiology lab at UNC Health, says some people test positive on rapid tests more quickly than others.
“There are people who test positive on day one of symptoms; some people test positive and they’re asymptomatic. Other people may not test positive until day three of symptoms, or even day five,” Miller explained.
She says a lot of factors come into play, and you can’t always assume a negative rapid test is accurate, especially if you’ve been exposed to COVID and feel sick.
“Because it’s such a short time from when people are exposed to when they develop symptoms, sometimes early on you can be antigen-negative and really have COVID-19,” she said.
Some brands of rapid test are more sensitive than others, but PCR tests are the most sensitive.
Wake County currently offers PCR tests at 5 drive thru sites, with results in 12 hours. Once those sites shut down at the end of July, options for PCR tests include pharmacies but the results can take longer, and same-day appointments aren’t always available. Most doctors’ offices and urgent care facilities also offer them, but you may have to pay for a visit.
Other community sites give PCR tests, but it’s not clear whether they’ll remain open indefinitely.
A statement from NCDHHS reads:
“Over the course of the last 2+ years, testing technology and accessibility has evolved. There are now many resources for COVID-19 tests, including at-home tests, health insurance coverage for rapid testing, and programs that distribute rapid tests across the state. NCDHHS is looking at the data and working with local partners to continue COVID-19 testing support based on community need and with an emphasis on at home testing distribution. We will continue to provide free in-person testing or testing surge support if we see demand and community need.”
Virginia Musselman said the home tests are definitely more convenient, especially if you’re not feeling well enough to drive to a site that offers PCR tests, but after her family’s experience, she suggests having several available.
“Take a test and keep trying,” she urged, “Because it may not show up right away.”
To find a testing site near you, visit https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/FindTests.