How Much Time does it Take to Get RT-PCR Test Results

The coronavirus pandemic, which shook the world at its advent two years ago, baffled the medical fraternity all over the world. It was an unprecedented medical crisis that created stress and anxiety as doctors grappled with insufficient resources to understand the infection and how to deal with it.

Fortunately, researchers developed certain tests to detect the virus and find ways to reduce its spread. These tests have played a crucial role in understanding how the virus gets transmitted. They help in detecting patients who have Covid-19 or had it in the past. These tests also help in suggesting the appropriate treatment to help save lives and control the transmission of the virus.

There are many questions about these Covid-19 tests: what are the different types of tests, when should one get tested, what is the procedure of the tests, and how much time does the RT-PCR test take.

Here you can find all this information and more about Covid-19, the tests needed to detect the virus, how much time the RT-PCR test takes, and what to do while you wait for the results.

Types of Covid-19 tests

There are three types of coronavirus tests:

  • RT-PCR tests
  • Antigen tests
  • Antibody tests

RT-PCR test

RT-PCR or Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction is one of the most common and accurate techniques for detecting the Covid-19 virus. This test is considered the ‘gold standard’ of testing, as it perfectly identifies a positive test if it is conducted within five days of showing the symptoms.

For this test, a sample is collected from the person’s nose or/and throat, which are places where the virus usually accumulates. The sample is then treated with chemical solutions to extract the RNA of the patient and the virus, if it is present.

However, the effectiveness of this test decreases to 70% if done later, between 9 and 11 days, and by the 21st day, it drops to 30%.

Antigen test

Antigen tests are also called serological tests and are used to detect proteins or antigens that are specific to the coronavirus.

Compared to the RT-PCR test, this test has a higher risk of a false-negative, which means the virus may be present in your body, but the test may not show it. The test might also report a false negative if the virus is present in very low amounts.

Antigen tests are called rapid tests, as some clinics provide the results in just 15 minutes.

Antibody test

Our immune system creates antibodies to fight the bacteria or virus that attacks our body. These antibodies are created within a few days or weeks after being infected and are unique to the kind of virus the immune system is responding to.

An antibody test cannot be used to detect a present infection. It only detects any previous infection. This test is done by collecting a blood sample through a finger prick and sent to the laboratory for detecting antibodies specific to the Covid-19 virus.

Some clinics give you the results on the same day, while some other clinics may take three to five days.

Who should get tested?

As per the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the following people should get tested for Covid-19:

  • People who display Covid-19 symptoms (cough, fever, loss of taste and smell, fatigue)
  • People who have been within 6 feet of a patient suffering from Covid-19
  • Those who have been referred by a doctor
  • Those who may have attended a large indoor gathering that could expose them to the risks of contracting the infection
  • People traveling to countries that require a negative RT-PCR test within 48 to 72 hours of their arrival.

Where should you get tested?

You can get tested at a private clinic, a government healthcare facility, or a laboratory. Several labs also conduct home visits to collect the samples.

What to expect during coronavirus testing

RT-PCR test procedure

For the RT-PCR test, a six-inch-long swab is inserted into the nostril or the back of your throat to collect a mucus sample. The swab is then rotated for a few seconds. The same procedure could be followed for the other nostril. You may feel slight discomfort during the test, but it lasts for just a few seconds.

The swab is then sealed in a sterile container and sent to the laboratory for testing.

Antigen test procedure

Similar to the RT-PCR test procedure, the antigen test requires a sample of mucus. A long swab is inserted into the nostrils and rotated for a few seconds. The swab is then sealed in a container and sent to the lab for testing.

During this test, too, you may feel slight discomfort for a few seconds.

Antibody test procedure

The procedure for the antibody test is different from the RT-PCR and antigen test.

In this test, the lab technician sterilises and pricks a finger for the blood sample. The blood sample is collected and sealed in a container, and then sent for lab testing.

What you should do while waiting for the test results

If you have done the RT-PCR test because you have been exposed to the virus and have been showing the symptoms, you should assume you have been infected and take the necessary steps to avoid spreading it to the people around you. You should self-isolate until you get your results.

However, if you have done the testing for travel purposes, have not come into contact with people having Covid-19, or are not showing the symptoms, then there is no need to self-isolate.

How much time does the RT-PCR test take?

Regular RT-PCR test

A regular RT-PCR test will give you the result within five hours. However, as there are different tests for Covid-19, every test takes its own time to come up with the results. It depends upon the kind of test and the laboratory or the hospital where you have done the test.

Rapid antigen test

Antigen tests give the results within 15 minutes. During these tests, too, a swab is inserted into the nose or the throat to collect a sample of the mucus. However, in this test, the sample is not sent to a laboratory. The sample is applied to a strip. The strip changes color if you test positive.

These tests are inexpensive and convenient as people know sooner if they are infected and if they need to self-isolate. Rapid tests are usually conducted before entering a healthcare facility or other public settings. Furthermore, as the antigen tests do not require a laboratory, these can be conducted at home.

The disadvantage of the antigen tests is that they are not as accurate as other lab tests and risk giving a false negative result.

What you should do if you have contracted Covid-19

If you think you may have contracted Covid-19, or if you have mild symptoms of the infection, follow these self-care steps to stay safe and to ensure the safety of others around you:

  • Self-isolate in a well-ventilated room.
  • Use a triple-layer mask and change it every 8 hours or if it becomes wet and soiled.
  • Take ample rest and stay well-hydrated.
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 40 seconds or clean with a hand sanitiser.
  • Do not share personal items with other members of your family.
  • Clean every surface of your room that you may have touched.
  • Monitor your temperature.
  • Monitor your oxygen saturation with a pulse oximeter.
  • Consult your physician if you notice any changes in your symptoms.

Here are some instructions for the caregiver:

  • The caregiver should wear a triple-layered mask, especially when entering the patient’s room
  • Maintain strict hand hygiene after visiting the patient’s room
  • Avoid exposure to the oral or respiratory secretions of the patient while in their room or while helping them
  • Sanitise your hands or dispose of the gloves after using for caregiving purposes.


There are different tests available for detecting Covid-19, and every test takes a different time to give the results. The time for RT-PCR depends upon where you get the test done. Some tests give the results within minutes, while some tests take a few days.

RT-PCR tests are preferred because of their accuracy. Antibody tests detect if you have had the coronavirus earlier, and antigen tests give a quicker result but have a greater chance of a false negative result.

If you are detected with Covid-19, it is essential that you self-isolate, follow sanitisation rules, stay well-hydrated, and follow your doctor’s instructions.

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MyGate is India’s largest society management system, benefiting thousands of housing societies, developers, society facility managers, and millions of homeowners in every Indian city.


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