Why does it take so long to get your COVID test result?

There have been a lot of new cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Some people are waiting a long time to get test results back. This long wait can be frustrating, and it’s hard to know how to keep yourself and those around you safe when you don’t know if you have COVID-19.

Why does it take so long to get test results? Even under the best of circumstances, our current testing method can take up to 24 hours. We are working to develop more rapid diagnostics, but right now the test is done using a method known as polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. PCR  takes a section of the viral genome and amplifies it (makes a lot of copies). These copies make it so the scientist can see if the virus is present or not. 

The amplification process takes time, and a PCR machine can only hold a limited number of samples at a time. There needs to be a technician who can process the samples and analyze the results. And the process requires specific chemicals, called reagents, which have been in short supply. So when there are lots and lots of people getting tested, there may not be enough people, machines, or reagents to get them done quickly. This creates a backlog, and it’s why some people are having to wait so long to get their results.

It might be tough, but If you got tested because you were exposed to or think you might have COVID-19, you should stay home and away from others until your test results come back.


Last update: July 31, 2020 9:45AM

Science review: JAB, GSN