Have you been exposed to someone with COVID-19? Are you having a persistent cough or a sore throat? If so, you’ve likely already gone out to get tested for COVID-19. Testing positive for COVID-19 can be intimidating and scary, however, if you are using an at-home test, it can be quite confusing as well. Nonetheless, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that any positive result indicates an infection and warrants at least a 5-day at-home isolation accompanied by a notification to your healthcare provider.

After performing a nasal swab for a COVID-19 rapid test, you may begin to ponder: “What does it mean if I have a positive result, but the line is faint?”, or “What does it mean if my test returned back as positive very quickly?”. These are all reasonable questions and perhaps there may be answer to these questions—read on to learn more!

Interpreting the Results – Positive for COVID-19

Performing an at-home COVID-19 test is a quick and efficient tool in detecting infection and makes a huge impact on stopping the spread of COVID-19.

A rapid antigen test usually gets results within 15 minutes (depending on the manufacturer) and can be performed anywhere at any time, but to get the most accurate result, it is important to do the test properly. To do so, it is crucial that you diligently follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

In general, most rapid antigen tests have both a “C” and a “T” located on the test strip. On one hand, the “C” indicates the control, which lets you know that the test is working and should always have a line appear after the sample is collected. On the other hand, the “T” indicates the test section, which lets you know the results the nasal swab that was performed. If no line returns on the “T” section after 15 minutes, it likely indicates a negative result for COVID-19. Conversely, if a line does appear, then a positive result is indicated.


Faint Line vs. Dark Line

If a line appears underneath the “T” section of the test strip, that would indicate a positive result regardless of the faintness or brightness of the line. However, a recently published article suggests that there actually may be some significance in the thickness or brightness of the line.

A line that is really dark could indicate that you are highly contagious and likely to be a “super spreader”. It could potentially mean that you might go into a public vicinity and infect a large number of people. On the contrary, if you get a line that is really faint, you may still be contagious, but you’re less likely to infect as many people compared to someone who has a really dark line.

Nonetheless, getting any line underneath the test section should warrant you to notify your healthcare provider and take the necessary precautions to minimize the risk of spread.

Sudden Results vs. Slow Results

If you’ve taken a COVID-19 rapid test and are awaiting your results, the average wait-time is around 15 minutes. If you are able to see a dark line within 10 minutes, it likely indicates that you have a significant amount of coronavirus, but if you are able to see a dark line in less than a minute, that could mean that you have an immense amount of virus.

Final Takeaways

  • COVID-19 Rapid Tests are a convenient and efficient way to detect infection within approximately 15 minutes (depending on the manufacturer).
  • A positive test result is indicated by a line that appears under the “T” or test section, regardless of the brightness or faintness of the line.
  • A faster test result may indicate a higher viral load than one that appears later.
  • If you test positive for COVID-19, immediately contact your healthcare provider and maintain the necessary precautions to prevent the spread.


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