Testing is considered one of the most important and effective ways of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the UK government struggled for the majority of last year in setting up and deploying a widescale testing initiative, regular, free coronavirus testing has been ramped up across the entire UK since November.
Liverpool was one of the first English cities to offer regular coronavirus testing for all residents, whether they have symptoms or not, as part of a test scheme. Now, anyone anywhere in the UK can get one, usually by visiting a COVID-19 test site.
Coronavirus testing is a way of finding out whether somebody has an active case of the disease COVID-19, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
COVID-19 tests were developed last year in response to the emerging COVID-19 epidemic, which was officially declared a pandemic in March 2020. They are generally conducted in clinical settings, including temporary COVID-19 testing sites in the UK where clinicians carry out COVID testing to people with and without symptoms.
The COVID-19 testing infrastructure has been greatly expanded in recent months as the onset of a second wave threatened the health service. While it was initially difficult to get a test, it is now possible to arrange one through the NHS 119 phone number or by attending a walk-in service. It’s also possible to buy your own tests for use in private settings.
The aim of COVID-19 testing is to identify positive cases so that people can self-isolate and stop the spread of the virus. Those who test positive are legally obliged to do this, and criminal penalties may be given out to those who fail to isolate after a positive test or potential contact notification.
There are two ‘main’ types of COVID-19 test that look for active cases (not immunity): PCR and LFD (‘antigen’) testing.
PCR testing is the most commonly used method, and it’s the official method for testing people who have symptoms as it’s much more sensitive and accurate.
The science behind the PCR test is already well-established. It’s capable of detecting very low levels of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in a relatively small sample. Despite its accuracy, however, it’s still possible for false-negative results to be given between 2% and 29% of the time.
PCR tests are carried out using a swab. This is inserted into a patient’s nose and throat. It’s usually a doctor or nurse who does this. The sample is then sent off to a lab for analysis.
For the most part, PCR has been the only testing method available. This changed towards the back end of last year, however, when lateral flow rapid antigen test emerged.
These were subsequently approved by the UK government for private use by individuals (i.e., employers or those who want to self-test.) Lateral flow tests are also used at COVID-19 test sites for asymptomatic individuals who want a rapid test as part of the ongoing community testing effort.
The way lateral flow tests work is different from PCR, however, they play the same role in the wider testing process by identifying positive cases of COVID-19.
If you go to a test site, you’ll now take the lateral flow test. This, like the PCR test, is a swab test that gives results in less than an hour because the results don’t need to go to a lab. The test checks if you’re infectious, even if you’re asymptomatic (you don’t have symptoms.)
The exact process for testing will depend on the test site and whether you visit on foot or drive.
Typically, you will be given a lateral flow test and told how to take your own sample. However, a clinician or other trained member of staff may do this for you.
Once a sample has been taken, a trained member of staff will process the result. This result will be sent to you as soon as it has become available, typically inside of an hour, via SMS.
If you test positive, you may receive a phone call from NHS Test and Trace. NHS Test and Trace will ask you where you’ve been recently and who you have been in close contact with. This will enable the NHS to contact anyone who may have caught the virus from you.
You must be honest if you test positive and are contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Even if you have broken the COVID rules, NHS Test and Trace will not report you to the police, so it is best to tell the truth so that your contacts don’t pass the virus on unnecessarily.
Yes, it’s possible to test yourself for COVID-19 if you have a lateral flow testing kit. These are available from HandStations (more information below.)
If you do a self-test, it’s important that you carefully follow the instructions included in your testing kit so as to ensure accuracy and reliability. Failure to follow the instructions could lead to a false result or no result at all (a void test). Your testing kit will include instructions on how to read and interpret the test result.
This depends on where you’ve had your test done and the type of test that was taken. You will be told what type of test you took at the time of taking it.
If you’ve had a rapid lateral flow swab test, you should get your result within two hours. If you don’t receive a result within 12 hours, the government recommends that you go and get another test. Due to the sheer number of tests being taken, it’s inevitable that some results will go missing or not be sent out.
If you’ve had a PCR test, the result will take longer. This is because the result is sent to a lab for analysis. Most people get their PCR test result the next day, but it can take up to three days. If you have symptoms, you should self-isolate while you wait for a result. If you don’t get your result within six days, you should call NHS 119 between 7 am and 11 pm.
Results are usually sent via text or email. You may also get your result in the NHS COVID-19 app if you use it, or over the phone if you’re positive and NHS Test and Trace contacts you.
No, you do not usually need to self-isolate if you get a negative test result.
A negative result means that the test did not find any signs of a COVID-19 infection. Even if you get a negative result, you should still follow the same guidelines as everyone else on social distancing and mask wearing.
You should still self-isolate even with a negative result if:
Antibody tests are completely different from PCR/lateral flow antigen tests. This is because antibody tests look for COVID-19 antibodies, not an active infection.
Antibodies are cells produced by the immune system in response to an infection. If you’ve got COVID-19 antibodies, it means the SARS-CoV-2 virus has, at some point, been in your body and you have had an active infection.
The presence of antibodies does not mean you have an active case of COVID-19.
Antibody tests are carried out in select circumstances and are much less common than PCR and antigen tests that look for active COVID-19 cases.
Having antibodies does not mean you are immune from COVID-19. It also does not mean that you can’t be re-infected and pass the disease on. This is why you must continue to practice social distancing and other COVID-19 best practices even if you’ve got antibodies.
At HandStations, we stock the Healgen covid 19 rapid test kit. This can be used in both private and commercial settings to identify asymptomatic cases of COVID-19.
Healgen antigen test are approved for public use by both the UK government and Public Health England. Each testing kit contains everything that is needed to carry out the test, including clear instructions.
Results are available in just 15 minutes, providing quick and clear testing so that decisive action can be taken.
If you or somebody you know has symptoms of COVID-19 (a new cough, loss of taste or smell, or a high temperature) they must self-isolate immediately and contact NHS 119 to arrange a test; do not use antigen testing kits when symptoms exist.