PCR tests

Last Updated: 29 Sep 2022 12:03pm

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COVID-19 testing clinics in Tasmania use PCR (polymerase chain reaction) diagnostic tests. PCR tests are highly accurate for detecting an active infection of COVID-19.

You can get a PCR test by going to a state-operated PCR clinic during opening hours. For all clinic locations and details go to PCR testing clinics.

A PCR test involves taking a sample by swabbing your throat and both nostrils, and the sample is sent to a laboratory for processing.

If you get tested at a state-operated PCR clinic, you will automatically be tested for all four illnesses. You cannot choose which viruses you are tested for.

Some people are at higher-risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and flu. These people may be eligible for special medication (antivirals) to help reduce the severity of illness, including hospitalisation.

If you are getting tested a state-operated PCR clinic and believe you are at higher-risk, you should let your GP or health care provider know you are being tested. Do not wait for your test result.

Who should get a PCR test

You should get a PCR test at a testing clinic when:

  • you are having difficulty accessing or using a RAT,
  • you get an invalid result after taking a RAT,
  • you get a negative RAT result and have ongoing symptoms
  • your GP or medical practitioner recommends you get a PCR test.

Find out more about testing after having COVID-19.

Public Health advise the following people should have a PCR test, rather than a rapid antigen test (RAT):

  • people who are at higher-risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and may be eligible for antiviral medication. Find out if you may be eligible for antiviral medication.
  • people who live or work with vulnerable people, such as the elderly or people with disability.

People with disability, who may not be able to be tested in a drive-through clinic, should contact their GP or the Public Health Hotline for referral to the most appropriate clinic or to arrange an alternative testing process.

Where to get a test

Drive-through PCR testing clinics

  • Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie.
  • You don’t need to book, just turn up during opening hours.
  • Free, including if you are not covered by Medicare.
  • Provide testing only, not health assessments or advice on managing symptoms.
  • Results usually provided within 48 hours.

GP-led respiratory clinics

  • Hobart, Launceston and St Helens.
  • Free, including if you are not covered by Medicare.
  • Provide assessment, testing, and initial treatment of symptoms.
  • Bookings are required- see where to get a PCR test. A doctor’s referral is not required.
  • Staff will be in full PPE. You should wear a mask and will be asked to wait in your car until your appointment.
  • Best option if you need to see a GP but can’t see your own; if you have underlying health conditions; and for children, particularly aged under five years.
  • Results usually provided within 48 hours.

North West Pathology

The state-operated Burnie testing clinic is closing on 9 October 2022. From 10 October, residents in the Burnie area can get a PCR test North West Pathology.

People who have COVID-19 symptoms should get tested at North-West Pathology, 52-56 Bass Highway, Cooee from 8.30am - 2.00pm Monday – Friday (weekends as required).

  • A request form is needed to be tested here. Visit your doctor or Healthcare Professional for a request form.

Asymptomatic people (including those who require a PCR test for hospital admission or travel) should get tested at North-West Pathology at the Medical Centre, 21 Brickport Road, Burnie from 8.30am - 2.00pm Monday – Friday (weekends as required).

  • Testing for pre-hospital admission requires a request form from your doctor or Healthcare Professional.
  • COVID-19 travel testing accepted but travellers must follow the Sonic Travel Testing instructions.

Contact North-West Pathology on 6432 8800 to book a test. No walk-ins will be accepted at either clinic.

Travelling to your test

If you are being tested because you have symptoms but you do not have your own transport, call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738 as travel assistance may be available.

It is important to protect others when travelling to have your test.

When travelling to get tested:

  • wear a face mask to protect others
  • before leaving home, make sure you and anyone travelling with you, wash their hands well, with soap and water (or alcohol-based hand sanitiser if hands are not visibly dirty)
  • maintain physical distancing of at least 1.5m between people
  • sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue and clean your hands after coughing or sneezing
  • go straight to the GP or testing clinic – don't stop on the way there or back

Transport when you are a close contact

If you are being tested because you have symptoms and are a close contact and there is a higher risk of you having COVID-19, please do not travel by bus, taxi or ride-sharing service.

Transport when you are not a close contact

If you are being tested because you have symptoms but have not been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, then it is best to travel by private car, but okay to travel by public transport (bus, taxis or rideshare etc) if you need to.

Using private transport

If another person drives you to get tested:

  • Minimise the number of people in the car - it is best if it is just the driver and you.
  • Avoid physical contact with the driver. Keep at least 1.5 metres distance whenever possible.
  • Sit in the back seat opposite the driver.
  • Both you and the driver should wear a face mask

Your driver does not need to isolate with you but should be alert for any cold or flu-like symptoms and isolate themselves and arrange testing straight away if symptoms develop.

Waiting for a PCR test result

Test results are usually provided within 48 hours. While you wait for your test result:

  • you must isolate
  • you must stay at home
  • don’t go to work or school
  • if you believe you are at high-risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and may be eligible for antiviral medication, contact your GP or health care provider to let them know you have been tested. Do not wait for your test result.

If you become very unwell or have difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Let the operator know you have had a COVID-19 test and are awaiting your test result.

View I've been tested what's next fact sheet for more information.

Support while waiting for your result

A grant may be available if you have to miss work while waiting for a COVID-19 test result. Read more about Pandemic Isolation Assistance Grants.

If you need help with supplies or essential tasks outside your home while isolating, ask a friend or family member to help. Tell them to leave supplies at your door.

If you don’t have someone to help you, read about the support available or call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

COVID-19 PCR test results

A PCR test may provide a positive, negative or borderline result.

Positive PCR result

A positive PCR result means that genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 has been detected from the sample. This means that it is likely that you have an infection with SARS-CoV-2.

If you have a positive PCR result, you:

  • will be notified of your positive result by Public Health and they will ask you to provide some details to assist you to access care.
  • must isolate away from others at your home/suitable accommodation

Negative PCR result

A negative PCR result means that you are unlikely to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 at the time your sample was taken. It is possible that the virus is not detected by the test, even though you have COVID-19. This might happen if you are in the very early stages of the infection.

Continue to practice COVID-safe behaviours and if you have symptoms and they continue, consult your doctor or call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

Borderline or equivocal PCR result

A borderline or equivocal PCR result means that there are low levels of SARS-CoV2 RNA (the virus that causes COVID-19) present in the sample. This may indicate early infection, be due to detection of residual viral particles from a past infection or rarely a false positive result. Anyone with borderline result should have a further test collected 24-48 hours after the first test.

The lab will contact you by text/SMS message. You will need to get a second PCR test at the same testing clinic within 24-48 hours to determine whether this is a new or old infection. Book a test online or phone the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

Ensure you isolate while waiting for your second test result.

What does your test result mean?

1st test result

2nd test result within 24-48 hours

Likely interpretation

Borderline

Negative

Past infection or a false positive

Borderline

Positive

New COVID infection

Borderline

Borderline

Past infection or a false positive