How is COVID-19 Diagnosed?


COVID-19 is diagnosed by swabbing the inside of your nose or your throat, and testing the mucus or saliva. Different tests are recommended depending on your COVID-19 exposure and whether you have symptoms.

If you suspect you have COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider for advice on which test to take. In some cases, an at-home test is all that is needed. In others, your provider may want to see you in person.

The main types of COVID-19 tests are:

  • Antigen test, or rapid test. This test can be purchased online or in stores and is taken at home. It detects the presence of proteins that are pieces of the virus. Results are ready in 15-30 minutes. A positive test means you have COVID-19 but a negative test does not rule out COVID-19 infection. If you have COVID-19 symptoms or suspect you were exposed to the virus, and you have a negative rapid test, you should follow up with a PCR test, which is more sensitive.
  • PCR test, also called NAAT or molecular test. You can take this test at a pharmacy or in an urgent care or doctor’s office. The swab will be sent to a laboratory. If the virus is present, the PCR tests will detect its genetic material, called RNA. Results typically take 24 hours. Both positive and negative results of PCR tests are highly accurate.

How can a primary doctor help?

COVID-19 testing can be confusing, and getting the right type of test at the right time is important for an accurate diagnosis. A primary care doctor can give you advice on which test to take and how to isolate to prevent the spreading of the virus. The doctor also can help you address COVID-19 symptoms and, if you have a positive test, may be able to prescribe medication to help. If further care is needed, a primary care doctor can refer you to specialists.

How is COVID-19 treated?


Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and can recover at home with rest and over-the-counter medications. But if you have a condition that puts you at risk of severe illness, and you test positive for the disease, contact your primary care doctor right away. You may need prescription treatments for COVID-19 that must be started within days of developing symptoms.

There is no cure for COVID-19, but treatments can make the illness less severe and help prevent complications.

Home care

If your COVID-19 symptoms are mild, follow these steps to feel better:

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Drink hot tea or broth to soothe a sore throat
  • Inhale steam from a bowl of hot water, or a hot shower
  • Take over-the-counter medications for fever and aches (ibuprofen, acetaminophen)
  • Take over-the-counter decongestants


Only one drug, Remdesivir (Veklury), has received FDA approval to treat COVID-19. Other medications have been authorized for emergency use, and more treatments are being tested. COVID-19 medications include:

  • Remdesivir (Veklury). This antiviral drug is approved for treating adults and children aged 12 and older who are hospitalized with COVID-19 and are at high risk for severe illness. It is given as an intravenous infusion over 3 days.
  • Paxlovid. Taken by mouth, as a pill, this is a combination of two medications, one of them antiviral. It is authorized for treating mild to moderate COVID-19 in patients age 12 and older who are at risk of serious illness.
  • Bebtelovimab. A type of drug called a monoclonal antibody is authorized for COVID-19 patients age 12 and older who are hospitalized and on ventilators. It is given as a single intravenous injection.
  • Molnupiravir (Lagevrio). This antiviral medication is authorized for adults who are at high risk for serious illness and unable to take other medications. It is taken by mouth.

Plasma therapy

Early in the pandemic, researchers investigated treating COVID-19 with blood plasma collected from people who had recovered from a COVID-19 infection. The idea behind plasma therapy is that immune-system molecules in the plasma could help someone with an active infection fight the disease. Today, plasma therapy is an authorized treatment only in unusual cases under strict guidelines.



The most widely used COVID-19 vaccines are those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The active ingredient is mRNA, a molecule made in the laboratory that stimulates immunity. These two vaccines also contain polyethylene glycol (PEG, a common ingredient in laxatives and other medicines), which causes an allergic reaction in some people. You should not get these vaccines if you are allergic to PEG.

A mild case of COVID-19 lasts 1 to 2 weeks. In some cases, however, ongoing symptoms may continue for weeks or months.

You are most likely to be contagious for the first 5 days after a positive COVID-19 test. You should stay home and isolate yourself from others in your household.

If you have any of these warning signs, seek medical care immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Confusion that is new
  • Can’t be woken up or stay awake
  • Pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or under the fingernails

Yes, you can get COVID-19 more than once.

COVID-19 symptoms develop between 2 and 14 days after exposure.

Yes, even if you don’t have symptoms you can spread COVID-19. You are most contagious in the first day or two before symptoms develop.

Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for COVID-19 Treatment

At NewYork-Presbyterian our primary care physicians are experts on the symptoms of COVID-19 and how to treat this infection. Schedule an appointment or a video visit* at a convenient time. We offer easy scheduling, with early, late, and weekend hours, and we accept most insurance.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, finding out how to treat them is important. If further care is needed, our primary care doctors can refer you to NewYork-Presbyterian specialists. *Restrictions apply

*Restrictions apply