Health Advice



Don't take a rapid COVID test too soon: how and when to swab

Cindy Krischer Goodman, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in Health & Fitness

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — With new COVID cases in Florida on the rise, taking an easy-to-get rapid test can give you quick results.

But the timing has become tricky.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough, congestion or a sore throat, test yourself immediately but know that a negative result may mean that you swabbed too early.

“Most of the time, people are not getting a positive result until three to five days after they start to show symptoms,” said Kathryn Pebanco, a nurse practitioner at the MinuteClinic in Plantation.

Pebanco says you should repeat a rapid test a few days later if you get a negative result and have COVID symptoms or were in close contact with someone who tested positive. Meanwhile, take precautions, particularly if you are coming in contact with someone at high risk of severe disease if they get infected.

Some researchers believe the virus is more heavily concentrated in your throat and mouth before it makes its way to the nose. Now there is some discussion of adding a throat swab to test kits to make them more accurate.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “Multiple negative rapid tests increase the confidence that you are not infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.“

If you’re positive, begin isolating immediately — even if you don’t have symptoms. False positives are rare.

How rapid tests work

Rapid tests work by detecting pieces of proteins on the surface of the coronavirus and only appear when you have enough of the virus in your system to be detected.


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