What COVID-19 test should I do?
Information on which COVID-19 test best suits your particular requirements.
When should I get a COVID-19 test?
- You have COVID-19 symptoms. It is especially important if you are at higher risk of severe illness to get a test so you can access treatment earlier.
- You are at higher risk of severe illness and have been recently exposed to someone with COVID-19. Early diagnosis means you can access treatment earlier.
- You are a household contact or have had a high or moderate risk exposure to someone with COVID-19. This will help you know if you have COVID-19 sooner.
You do not need to test or self-isolate if you have had COVID-19 and have finished self-isolating in the last 4 weeks unless you have symptoms. If you are at higher risk of severe illness and have any new symptoms after you have finished self-isolating, you should get a PCR test (nose and throat swab). You should talk to your doctor as your doctor may also recommend a test for other respiratory viruses such as influenza.
See information for people exposed to COVID-19 for more information about when to get tested
Who is at higher risk of severe illness?
- People aged 60 years and older
- Pregnant women
- Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Pacific Islander people (from age 35 years and over)
- People with obesity, diabetes, serious cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease (including severe asthma requiring hospitalisation in last 12 months), severe chronic liver or kidney disease, active cancer or who are immunocompromised
- Some people with a disability including those with a disability that affects their lungs, heart or immune system
- Residents of aged care and disability care facilities
- People aged 18 years and older who are unvaccinated
Older age is a risk factor for serious illness, particularly when combined with significant underlying health conditions.
What COVID-19 test should I get?
There are two different tests you can get to check if you have COVID-19:
- a rapid antigen test (RAT) that you can do yourself
- a PCR test that is done at a testing clinic
If you are at higher risk of severe illness youshould get a PCR test as they are more accurate. There are early treatments available for COVID-19 such as antiviral medication that can work best if they are taken within 5 days from when your symptoms start. If you can’t get a PCR test result quickly, do a rapid antigen test while you wait for the PCR test result.
If you are at higher risk of severe illness, plan ahead. Speak to your doctor now about antiviral or other early treatment for COVID-19 so you understand your options if you test positive.
If you are not at higher risk of severe illness, do a rapid antigen test unless you have arrived from overseas and have COVID-19 symptoms, or your doctor tells you to have a PCR test.
If you are an international arrival, you should monitor closely for symptoms of COVID-19 after arrival. If you develop symptoms, get tested for COVID-19 and self-isolate until you receive a negative result. If your symptoms have started within 14 days of arriving in Australia, a PCR test is preferred. Please see the COVID-19 Information for International Arrivals for more information
Specific testing advice is available for residents of aged care facilities. Speak to your residential aged care provider if you have questions.
What do I do with the results?
- If you have a positive PCR test result, even if you don’t have symptoms, you have COVID-19. You must follow the advice for people testing positive to COVID-19 and managing COVID-19 safely at home.
- If you have a negative PCR test result you do not currently have COVID-19. If you have been recently exposed to a person with COVID-19, you need to continue to follow the self-isolation advice for people exposed to COVID-19 as you may still be developing the infection.
- Some pathology providers test for multiple viruses and may send you test results for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), influenza and COVID-19 at the same time.
Rapid antigen tests
If you have COVID-19 symptoms and:
- the rapid antigen test is positive, register the result with Service NSW and follow the advice for people testing positive to COVID-19 and managing COVID-19 safely at home.
- the rapid antigen test is negative and you are at higher risk of severe illness, keep self-isolating until you get your PCR test result, as this will be the more accurate result.
- the rapid antigen test is negative, and you are not at higher risk of severe illness, have a PCR test right away or another rapid antigen test 24 hours later. Keep self-isolating until you get the results of your second test. If the second test is negative you do not have COVID-19. You should stay at home until you recover from your illness.
If you have no COVID-19 symptoms and:
- the rapid antigen test is positive,register the result with Service NSW and follow the testing positive to COVID-19 and managing COVID-19 safely at home advice. You can have a PCR test to confirm the result (as it is more accurate). If you do get a PCR test within 24 hours of your rapid antigen test and it is negative, you can stop self-isolating. Get another test if you develop symptoms.
- the rapid antigen test is negative, you are unlikely to have COVID-19.