Objective: The chest radiograph (CXR) is the predominant imaging investigation being used to triage patients prior to either performing a SARS-CoV-2 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or a diagnostic CT scan, but there are limited studies that assess the diagnostic accuracy of CXRs in COVID-19.To determine the accuracy of CXR diagnosis of COVID-19 compared with PCR in patients presenting with a clinical suspicion of COVID-19. Methods and materials: The CXR reports of 569 consecutive patients with a clinical suspicion of COVID-19 were reviewed, blinded to the PCR result and classified into the following categories: normal, indeterminate for COVID-19, classic/probable COVID-19, non-COVID-19 pathology, and not specified. Severity reporting and reporter expertise were documented. The subset of this cohort that had CXR and PCR within 3 days of each other were included for further analysis for diagnostic accuracy. Results: Classic/probable COVID-19 was reported in 29% (166/569) of the initial cohort. 67% (382/569) had PCR tests. 344 patients had CXR and PCR within 3 days of each other. Compared to PCR as the reference test, initial CXR had a 61% sensitivity and 76% specificity in the diagnosis of COVID-19. Conclusion: Initial CXR is useful as a triage tool with a sensitivity of 61% and specificity of 76% in the diagnosis of COVID-19 in a hospital setting. Advances in knowledge: .Diagnostic accuracy does not differ significantly between specialist thoracic radiologists and general radiologists including trainees following training.There was a 40% prevalence of PCR positive disease in the cohort of patients (n = 344) having CXR and PCR within 3 days of each other.Classic/probable COVID-19 was reported in 29% of total cohort of patients presenting with clinical suspicion of COVID-19 (n = 569).Initial CXR is useful as a triage tool with a sensitivity of 61% and specificity of 76% in the diagnosis of COVID-19 in a hospital setting.