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COVID-19 testing and next steps

Information on when to use different types of COVID-19 tests and how to access them.

Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests

PCR tests are COVID-19 tests that need to be processed in a lab.

Samples for PCR tests can be collected in several ways including nasopharyngeal swabs, which are collected by inserting a long, flexible swab in the nostril rotated for 5 to 10 seconds, or saliva tests.

PCR self-collection kits are also available for testing at home and must be returned to be processed in a lab. PCR self-collection kits may be available to you from a testing location, or through a school testing program. Learn more about PCR self-collection kits from the Ontario government.

Refer to more information about PCR tests including who is eligible for PCR tests, your test results, and next steps.

Rapid molecular tests

Rapid molecular tests are COVID-19 tests that are typically conducted by a health care professional or other trained individual. They can provide results within 15 minutes.

Samples for rapid molecular tests are collected by nose or throat swabs.

Rapid molecular tests are primarily used in rural and remote settings where access to lab-based PCR tests may be limited.

Refer to more information about rapid molecular test results and next steps.

Rapid antigen tests

Rapid antigen tests are COVID-19 tests that can give results quickly and do not require processing by a lab. They can be done at home and may be available for purchase at some pharmacies.

Samples for rapid antigen tests are collected in different ways including through a nasal swab or nasal and cheek swab. Follow the directions provided to you with the test.

Refer to more information on rapid antigen tests including when they should be used, your test results and next steps.

Other information

In Ontario, publicly funded PCR will only be available for high-risk individuals who are symptomatic or at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, workers and residents in highest risk settings, and vulnerable populations. Members of the public with mild symptoms are asked not to seek PCR testing. Refer to the full list of who’s eligible for PCR tests from the Ontario government.

If you’re eligible for a PCR test, you can book your appointment at a testing location near you. Anyone who does not meet the eligibility criteria may be turned away if they do not qualify.

If you test positive on a PCR or rapid molecular test, you have COVID-19. Refer to instructions for individuals with COVID-19.

Rapid antigen tests are being used for screen testing, for those with symptoms and for “test-to-work” purposes.

People with symptoms

Rapid antigen tests used for people with symptoms can help determine the likelihood of your symptoms being related to COVID-19. If you have symptoms and are not eligible for PCR or molecular point-of-care testing, use a rapid antigen test if you have access to one. Refer to more instructions for people who have symptoms.

Screening testing

Rapid antigen tests used for screen testing should be used routinely 1 or more times a week, for people without symptoms, and without a known exposure to someone with COVID-19. Using rapid antigen tests for screen testing can help identify people with COVID-19 before they have symptoms, or if they do not develop symptoms.

If an individual without symptoms or without a known exposure to COVID-19 completes a rapid antigen test outside of routine screening, such as before a social event or gathering, they should understand that there are limitations, and that the test should be completed within a few hours of the event.  Rapid antigen tests can have low sensitivity in people without symptoms or without a known exposure to COVID-19. People with COVID-19 can test negative for several days before testing positive.

Test-to-work

Rapid antigen tests used for test-to-work can support work self-isolation and meet critical workforce needs for health care or other essential services. Rapid antigen tests can be used to support daily screening during work self-isolation. More details of work-self isolation should be provided to you by your employer.

Follow these instructions depending on your test result:

  • If you had symptoms and test negative, take another rapid antigen test 24 to 48 hours after your first test. If you have 2 consecutive negative tests separated by 24 to 48 hours, you most likely do not have COVID-19. You should continue to self-isolate until your symptoms are improving for at least 24 hours, or 48 hours for any gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • If you did not have symptoms and test negative, continue to follow all public health measures such as wearing a mask and limiting contacts.
  • If you test positive on a rapid antigen test, it is highly suggestive that you have COVID-19. Follow instructions for individuals with COVID-19.
    You do not require a PCR test for confirmation, and you do not need to report your test results to Peel Public Health.