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Getting a COVID-19 test for Thanksgiving? Different tests have different accuracy

The two main tests people take are molecular and antigen. There will be fewer testing sites open on Thanksgiving, and rapid tests don't give 100% accurate results.

AUSTIN, Texas — Health experts have warned people to not travel for Thanksgiving. Realistically, people still will drive or fly to see family on the holiday, and many are getting tested for COVID-19 ahead of time just in case.

Many testing sites will be closed on Thanksgiving, including all of the Austin-Travis County sites. Sites that will remain open include various independent, rapid testing locations like Austin COVID Drive Up Centers.

"Day-to-day, we see 300 to 500 people," Hide Noda, one of the workers at Austin COVID Drive Up Centers on South Lamar Boulevard in Austin, said. "We purely do rapid tests and PCR tests for if you currently have the virus."

Rapid tests, known as antigen tests, are usually administered to people in their vehicles with results in about 15 to 20 minutes. According to the Food and Drug Administration, antigen tests are "highly accurate" when administered correctly.

RELATED: AISD tests hundreds at rapid testing site after Austin High School cases rise

Molecular PCR tests are "incredibly accurate" and reliable because these tests look for coronavirus markers in the ribonucleic acid (RNA), part of DNA, and are more sensitive. PCR tests typically take a day or more to get results. According to Texas Health and Human Services and the FDA, neither PCR nor rapid tests can rule out people who do not have the virus. Tests may come back with a false negative, meaning a person may have the virus, but the person does not have symptoms yet.

RELATED: Surge of people seeking COVID-19 tests ahead of Thanksgiving, Austin health officials say

"You can be incubating the virus and test negative initially, and then, still a day or two later, develop symptoms and be infectious," Dr. Jason Pickett with Austin Public Health said during a news briefing on Wednesday. 

Testing locations like the one Noda oversees test a few hundred people per day, but Noda recommends people not get tested for five or six days after exposure unless they are already showing symptoms.


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