The Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADxSM) initiative at NIH is accelerating development and distribution of COVID-19 tests across the country.
Get answers to some common questions about COVID-19 testing.
Understanding COVID-19 Testing
If you have COVID-19 symptoms and want to get tested, contact your healthcare provider first. Your state health department’s website may also have information on local testing. You can also get a self-test or at-home test.
Over-the-counter rapid testing for COVID-19 is now widely available in stores, or you can do a drive-through self-test at a pharmacy, for example. Learn more about self-testing, including how to swab yourself, from the CDC.
NIH supports initiatives to make safe, fast, and easy-to-use COVID-19 tests available for self-testing. On March 1, 2021, NIH launched a study to assess the performance and usability of the Quidel QuickVue At-Home COVID-19 Test.
A viral, or diagnostic, test looks for current infection. There are two types of viral tests:
The antigen test (also called the “rapid test”) gives results in as little as 15 minutes. You are more likely to get a false negative result from the antigen test. If you have symptoms but get a negative test result from the antigen test, your doctor may give you a molecular test to confirm the results.
The molecular test can take up to a week to provide results.
An antibody test is designed to tell you whether you had an infection in the past.
A nasal swab is still the primary way to collect a sample to test for COVID-19. However, in some locations, a saliva sample can be used instead. Check with your healthcare provider about the options in your area.
Since the pandemic began, NIH has moved quickly to support expansion of fast, accurate testing methods to help save lives and prevent further spread of COVID-19. Through its RADx initiative, NIH issued a challenge to the nation’s inventors and innovators to develop safe and easy-to-use tests for COVID-19. NIH has awarded nearly half a billion dollars in manufacturing contracts to help rapidly scale up the United States’ testing capacity.