Early and accurate detection is critical for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and providing appropriate care for patients. Nasopharyngeal (NP) swabs, which require inserting a long shaft into the nasal cavity to collect a sample from the back of the nose and throat, are currently the gold standard for collecting a specimen for diagnosis. But the procedure is technically challenging, often uncomfortable for patients and requires personal protective equipment that may be in short supply. Other approaches to collecting specimens—including from an oropharyngeal swab and sputum—have been tested in small studies, but there is uncertainty about which method is best for detecting the virus. In a new study published in EBioMedicine, investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis, analyzing data from more than 3,000 specimens to compare the three approaches. The team found that sputum testing detected the RNA of the virus that causes COVID-19 at significantly higher rates while oropharyngeal swab testing had lower rates. Regardless of the collection method, the earlier samples were collected after symptoms began, the higher the detection rate.