Virus known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus causes coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19). The test supply became inadequate to meet the need and so it had to be prioritized according to guidance. For surveillance, the need for serologic tests emerged. Here, we review the timeline of test development, the turnaround times, and the various approved tests, and compare them as regards the genes they detect. We concentrate on the point-of-care tests and discuss the basis for new serologic tests. We discuss the testing guidance for prioritization and their application in a hospital setting. 


Tests that can quickly identify many individuals with infectious virus (rather than simply viral RNA), including when individuals have no symptoms, could limit the spread of infection and help prevent large outbreaks. Antigen tests have the potential to serve this role. These tests capture viral proteins in a rapid lateral flow format that can be easily performed by untrained personnel and give results in less than 15 minutes. Although less sensitive than reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction tests, early data suggest that antigen tests can be used to diagnose individuals with infectious virus during symptomatic COVID-19 infection. Antigen tests may play a key role in rapidly identifying those at highest risk for transmitting disease. However, test performance for people without symptoms is poorly understood, and more research on the value of these tests is urgently needed.


In the United States, 91 public health laboratories have completed verification to test for COVID-19.

It is important to note that these tests are currently limited to people in danger of serious illness. Those at risk include:

  • people with severe symptoms
  • people with underlying health conditions
  • pregnant women
  • older adults

When should you get tested?

Anyone with the following symptoms should contact a healthcare provider:

  • a cough
  • shortness of breath
  • a fever

Tests are in short supply and are only available for people at risk of severe illness. A doctor will determine whether a person’s symptoms necessitate a test. Anyone with a chronic health condition and anyone over the age of 60 should receive a test.

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