Breaking Down Four COVID-19 Testing Myths

As variants spread and case numbers rise, we're debunking COVID-19 testing myths.  

Diagnostics Testing|Sep.23, 2021

As COVID-19 continues to overstay its welcome thanks to multiple variants like Omicron and Delta, it's important to stay informed and continue testing to protect our families and communities.

We've learned a lot since the pandemic began. People now have multiple COVID-19 testing options, some that even can be completed in the comfort of their home. A negative test result can bring much-needed peace of mind and added confidence as we navigate a new phase of this pandemic.

Separating fact from fiction can be hard with all the information available at your fingertips.

Test your COVID-19 testing IQ as we dispel four major myths.

Myth 1: COVID-19 tests can tell me if I have the Omicron variant.
There's no COVID-19 test that's specifically built around diagnosing one kind of variant. Instead, COVID-19 tests confirm if individuals are infected with COVID-19, no matter which variant. Variants like Omicron and Delta primarily mutate in virus areas that our tests don't target.

To figure out what variant a COVID-19 sample contains, a more time-intensive process called genomic sequencing is performed. This analysis isn't done on every sample because of the large number of COVID-19 tests that are processed every day to give people results that enable informed decisions. Abbott is helping sequence COVID-19 samples to determine what variants are present in the U.S.

Abbott remains confident that our tests can detect variants as they emerge, and our scientists continue to study new variants and ensure our tests remain effective.

Myth 2: PCR tests are more sensitive than antigen tests for finding out if I have COVID.
PCR tests and antigen tests can be used in different scenarios. No one test is the silver bullet. We need different types of tests for different situations and settings. It's best to think of them as complementary tests that give an individual the clearest possible picture about if they have COVID-19 or not.

PCR tests are highly sensitive and look for genetic material using a polymerase chain reaction and can detect even the smallest amounts of COVID in your body. These tests are not conducted as frequently as antigen tests due to their higher cost and time requirements. Results can take a few days because these tests are often analyzed at a different location from where you took your COVID test. Because it takes longer to process PCR tests, it is challenging to take immediate action based on results.

Antigen tests help identify people when they are most contagious. Because these tests look for proteins instead of genetic material, they're faster than most molecular tests. Our BinaxNOW COVID-19 antigen test searches for these proteins and gives results in 15 minutes. It can be purchased from retailers and self-administered.

Myth 3: A negative COVID-19 test means I'm not infected and not contagious.
A test result is a snapshot in time, so you may be negative early in the week but test positive later as the virus multiplies in your body. The moment you tested negative may have been a moment where your viral load (the amount of virus present in your body) wasn't enough for the test to pick up to indicate that you're positive for COVID-19.

According to the CDC, "Negative test results in persons with known SARS-CoV-2 exposure suggest no current evidence of infection. These results represent a snapshot of the time around specimen collection and could change if the same test was performed again in one or more days."

It's important to follow the advice of your healthcare provider when evaluating test results.

Myth 4: More COVID testing leads to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
COVID tests don't cause more people to test positive. If more people in a community test positive, then transmission is high in the community. Surges in COVID-19 are representative of an increase in infections and serious illness; surges aren't representative of increased COVID-19 testing. Identifying a surge can help a community mitigate further spread.

Testing gives you the peace of mind you need as COVID-19 cases increase globally. Whether you choose to test at a health clinic or at home, know that testing is a safe and efficient way to stay informed and to protect you and your loved ones.

This story was originally published on September 23, 2021 and updated on June 03, 2022.



The BinaxNOW™ COVID-19 tests have not been FDA cleared or approved. They have been authorized by the FDA under an emergency use authorization. They have been authorized only for the detection of proteins from SARS-CoV-2, not for any other viruses or pathogens, and are only authorized for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of in vitro diagnostics for detection and/or diagnosis of COVID-19 under Section 564(b)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(b)(1), unless the declaration is terminated or authorization is revoked sooner.

For serial testing, the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Tests should be performed twice over 3 days, at least 24 hours (and no more than 48 hours) apart. For symptomatic use, a single test can be used.