At-Home and PCR COVID-19 Tests

With the current surge in COVID-19 cases, there are questions about at-home COVID tests vs. PCR tests when it comes to reporting a positive case.

Jan. 6, 2022 3   min read

As the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus continues to contribute to a spike in positive cases across the greater Rochester region, the number of patients being hospitalized with the virus is rising, as well.

Some of the positive test results are being reported by urgent cares and hospitals, while others are coming from individuals who have conducted tests using at-home kits.

Robert Mayo, Chief Medical Officer for Rochester Regional Health, shares his recommendations on what to do when you get a positive test result.

At-home tests & PCR tests

Over-the-counter COVID-19 home testing is an excellent resource that can help people make day-to-day choices. As of January 2022, the FDA has issued emergency use authorization for 12 different COVID-19 test kits that are approved for use at home.

At-home rapid tests are done using two different methods: antigen or molecular testing. Antigen testing uses a sample to detect the presence of a specific viral (protein) antigen. Molecular testing uses a sample to detect the genetic material of the virus.

Most at-home tests have results available within 15 minutes. A positive result from either an antigen or molecular test indicates an infection.

PCR tests detect genetic material (RNA) specific to the COVID-19 virus and can detect the virus within days of infection, even in people who are asymptomatic. Since these tests are run using samples of genetic material, they take longer to run and must be performed with specialized equipment in a laboratory.

At Rochester Regional Health Urgent Care locations, PCR test results are typically available within 24-48 hours.

As the overall number of COVID-19 cases goes up, the likelihood of obtaining a false positive test result from an at-home COVID test goes down proportionally. Therefore, if a symptomatic individual tests positive using a home test, that individual is very likely to have COVID-19.

Do you need a PCR test?

Symptomatic patients who test positive for COVID-19 using a rapid home test do not need confirmatory PCR testing. Nevertheless, Rochester Regional Health is reporting a recent influx of clinic phone inquiries, as well as Emergency Department and urgent care visits from patients who want confirmatory PCR testing.

Please be advised that confirmatory testing is not needed during times when community prevalence of COVID-19 is high as it is now. Staying away from Emergency Departments and urgent cares for confirmatory testing will prevent unnecessary facility congestion and will allow those facilities to care for the patients who really need them.

“If your home test is positive, you should assume that you have the COVID-19 virus and contact your primary care provider immediately,” Dr. Mayo said. “If you need a confirmatory PCR test for an employer or a similar situation, we encourage individuals to seek those through other channels aside from our emergency rooms and urgent cares.”

If an individual requires a PCR test for their employer, travel, an event, or other reasons, pharmacies and local county health department testing sites are viable alternatives to obtain a PCR test as needed.

The New York State Department of Health has an online search tool for COVID-19 testing locations; Monroe County has a list of testing sites that are updated on a regular basis, as well.


Scientists around the world are discovering new information about COVID-19, vaccines, treatments, and more every day. Rochester Regional Health is keeping you informed about the latest developments and research.

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