MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD) – People are asking which test is the best to take as COVID-19 cases rise across South Carolina and the demand for testing continues to grow. Currently three options are being offered including PCR lab tests, rapid tests and over-the-counter at home options. Doctors say there are benefits to each version.

Doctors say the type of test you need and when to take it depends on your symptoms and exposure to COVID-19. Another factor in the decision is availability of tests and where they’re being offered. Doctors say finding a test may be a challenge but say any test is better than none.

“Yeah we can’t keep them in stock, we got 250 in about an hour ago and we’re down to the last few,” says Chad Straughan, a Pharmacist at Tidewater Pharmacy.

From PCR tests to rapid tests and at home options, Straughan says the most effective option is the hospital offered PCR lab tests.

“Gold standard is going to be the PCR test so that’s the one the hospitals are doing,” says Straughan. “The sendoff, it takes typically 24 hours to get back and it takes it down to the DNA level.”

The next two options aren’t as accurate. Straughan says at-home options and rapid tests work best days into showing symptoms or exposure and can still return false negative results.

“If you are symptomatic at that point in time, you’re feeling like you might have a slight fever – some type of headache, you know again – typical COVID-19 systems is when you need to test to see if you have it,” says Straughan.

With at-home tests becoming harder and harder to find, Straughan says people should wait to purchase tests until they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19.

“Most often with these quick at home tests, they’re going to be false negatives because people are testing a little too early,” says Straughan.

At home tests can require varying instructions and attention to detail. Dr. Kay Durst, a Family Physician with Roper Saint Francis Hospital says it’s important to not check the test too early or leave it sitting out. She says it’s also important to consider testing more than once over a period of several days.

“You get the swab and you do it in the nose like the different tests say, usually around some of them up to 15 seconds between both nostrils, it’s very important,” says Dr. Durst.

As the demand for testing has increased since holiday travel, Dr. Durst says more testing sites are popping up and recommends sticking to a health provider to get your test.

“I would make sure you go to a reliable site to get tested,” says Dr. Durst.

As for when is the best time, Dr. Durst says if you’re sick or having trouble breathing to visit express care. If you were exposed but feel fine, doctors say to wait five days before heading to a testing site. Dr. Durst says for this, any test would work.

“At least if you could get the rapid test or the at home is better than nothing,” says Dr. Durst.

Health officials are urging anyone looking for a test to not show up to an emergency room or hospital but to instead call your doctor and schedule a test or go to a local testing site to avoid overwhelming hospitals.