Should You Be Tested for COVID-19?

A limited supply of test kits has meant that few people have been tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but that will likely change as more test kits become available and more people get diagnosed with COVID-19.

Breaking News – criteria for COVID-19 has been expanded to include more symptomatic patients. (see below)

As SARS-CoV-2 infections continue to spread, many people are probably wondering if they should be tested if they think they have COVID-19.

“Call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. Your healthcare professional will work with your state’s public health department and CDC to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.”

CDC on Should I be tested for COVID-19?

While it might sound like a good idea, especially if there are any COVID-19 cases in your state, getting tested for SARS-CoV-2 isn’t as easy as you might think it should be…

Should You Be Tested for COVID-19?

What’s the biggest problem with getting tested for SARS-CoV-2?

Since this is a new infection, a new test had to be developed to detect it.

And that test is not widely available. In fact, most testing has been done at the CDC so far.

“The California Department of Public Health announced today that new CDC test kits used to detect Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) now available in California can be used to do diagnostic testing in the community. California will immediately receive an additional shipment of kits to test up to 1,200 people.”

COVID-19 Testing Kits Arrive at State Public Health Laboratories

More and more local and state health departments are now getting a limited supply of test kits though.

The CDC is now shipping its laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) to qualified state and local public health laboratories.
The CDC is now shipping its laboratory test kit for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) to qualified state and local public health laboratories.

Still, even if you should be tested, it won’t be a test that your pediatrician has on hand.

But what happens if you think that you have COVID-19? Can you get tested?

Unless you are hospitalized and have severe symptoms, the criteria for possible COVID-19 from the CDC, which might lead to testing, has included:

  • Fever or signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness (e.g. cough or shortness of breath), AND
  • Any person, including healthcare workers, who has had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptom onset.

If a patient is hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, then a history of recent travel from affected geographic areas (China, Iran, Italy, Japan, and South Korea) is added to the criteria.

Only those with fever and severe acute lower respiratory illness (e.g., pneumonia, ARDS) requiring hospitalization and without alternative explanatory diagnosis (e.g., influenza) would be investigated for SARS-CoV-2 even though no source of exposure has been identified.

Those who meet the criteria can get tested if necessary, as can many others under the latest expanded criteria.

“Clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested. Decisions on which patients receive testing should be based on the local epidemiology of COVID-19, as well as the clinical course of illness.”

Evaluating and Reporting Persons Under Investigation (PUI)

In general, your provider will obtain the samples (nasopharyngeal swab AND oropharyngeal swabs) and send it to a local or state health department or the CDC for testing.

And if there is any doubt about whether or not someone needs testing, your provider will call their local or state health department for extra guidance.

But why would you want to get tested if there is no treatment for COVID-19?

“For COVID-19, the period of quarantine is 14 days from the last date of exposure, because 14 days is the longest incubation period seen for similar coronaviruses.”

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

Testing can help identify folks who really need to be quarantined, keeping them from getting others sick. That can be important, as many people might not be able to quarantine themselves for 14 days unless they are sure they are sick with SARS-CoV-2.

What to Know About COVID-19 Testing

A limited supply of test kits has meant that few people have been tested for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but that will likely change as more test kits become available and more people get diagnosed with COVID-19.

More on COVID-19 Testing

Author: Vincent Iannelli, MD

Vincent Iannelli, MD

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