Testing for COVID-19: When to get tested and testing results

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Who should get tested

People with COVID-19 can have:

Follow the testing directions provided by your local public health authority if you have:

COVID-19 rapid tests may be used to help quickly identify and isolate people who have COVID-19. This includes people who don't have any symptoms.

Always follow the instructions contained in your test kit or provided by your local health authority. The instructions tell you how to take the test and collect a sample. They are written specifically for that particular type of kit. If you take a sample in a different way, your test result may be invalid.

Where and how to get tested

Visit your provincial or territorial government website to find out:

Choose your province:

Workplace rapid testing and screening

The Government of Canada, some provincial/territorial governments and distribution partners are also providing COVID-19 rapid tests to businesses and organizations. This provides an extra layer of defence against the spread of the virus, which helps keep employees and communities safe.

Learn more about how to get tests for your workplace .

Handling COVID-19 rapid tests safely

You may receive rapid antigen test kits for at-home self-testing as part of federal, provincial or territorial COVID-19 testing initiatives that Health Canada has authorized for use by laboratories or trained individuals. While these kits are safe, effective and beneficial for self-testing, the product labelling and instructions may not describe or disclose the risks associated with misuse or accidental ingestion.

Take caution when handling these test kits, as many include liquid solutions with chemical preservatives. These may be hazardous if swallowed in larger amounts or if spilled on the skin, particularly to children and pets. Unintentional ingestion or skin exposure to very small quantities of liquid solutions, such as the quantity found in test kits, is not expected to cause the serious effects.

What you should do

For more information, please consult the public advisory on rapid antigen test kits and potential exposure to hazardous substances.

How samples are collected for diagnostic COVID-19 tests

There are different ways that samples can be collected to test for COVID-19. They can be collected through a:

For nucleic acid-based testing, such as molecular PCR, samples are collected from a patient in either a:

For conventional, laboratory based testing methods, patient samples must be first transported to the laboratory. It often takes 1 to 3 days for people to get their results back. Some rapid molecular tests can produce results in less than 1 hour.

Rapid antigen detection tests (RADT) (often called COVID-19 rapid tests) detect proteins of the virus. They are quick and easy to perform. The results can be seen in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.

Self-tests make it possible for people to collect samples for themselves or their dependants. They can administer the test and read their results at home. More information on self-tests and how to use them correctly can be found in our self-testing for COVID-19 fact sheet.

What to do after getting test results

If you use a COVID-19 rapid test or have received a lab (PCR) test, you need to know what to do with your result.

If your test result is positive:

If your test result is negative, you may still be in the early stages of infection and can potentially infect others, so you need to:

Learn more about:

How to report a problem with your test

If you have witnessed or experienced a problem with a medical device, including a COVID-19 test, you should report it. We recommend that you report your problem directly to the manufacturer of the test. Look for contact details for the manufacturer on the box and/or the test's instructions for use.

How testing for COVID-19 works

Want to understand COVID-19 testing?

Download and share the poster on testing

In Canada, there are different ways to test and analyze results for COVID-19. New tests and technologies are also being developed. So the types of tests that local public health authorities are using may differ.

There are 2 main categories of COVID-19 tests:

Diagnosing and screening for active infections

Nucleic acid-based testing (commonly referred to as molecular testing) is the main type of test used in Canada to diagnose COVID-19. Of all the molecular tests, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is the most common. Molecular tests detect the virus's genetic material (nucleic acids).

Rapid antigen detection tests RADT (often called COVID-19 rapid tests) are used to detect virus proteins. While the technology is advancing, antigen tests are generally less sensitive than molecular tests for diagnosing COVID-19 in people who have no symptoms of illness (asymptomatic). Antigen tests are, however, useful for screening asymptomatic people if they are tested at regular intervals (called serial testing). Serial testing is usually done 2 to 3 times over a period of 36 hours. This increases the overall sensitivity of the RADTs by allowing detection of the virus when levels begin to increase in infected individuals.

Get more information on these types of tests:

As part of Canada's overall testing strategy, Health Canada has authorized a number of self-tests. These tests are based either on molecular or on antigen technology.

Tests that detect previous infection through antibody tests

The second type of tests are serology or antibody tests. These tests do not detect the virus itself. Instead, they detect antibodies, which are produced in response to a previous infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus or in response to vaccination. Most serology tests are not able to distinguish the source that is the cause of the antibodies (for example from vaccination ar a previous infection). They also cannot confirm that an individual has adequate antibodies in their blood stream to protect them from future infection.

More information on serological tests can be found on our serological testing devices page.

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