As SARS-CoV-2 infections continue to spread, many people are probably wondering if they should be tested for COVID-19.
“To learn if you have a current infection, viral tests are used. Most people have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care. Contact your healthcare provider if your symptoms are getting worse or if you have questions about your health.”CDC on Testing for COVID-19
While it might sound like a good idea, especially if there are many COVID-19 cases in your area, 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 believe it or not, that test is still not widely available.
“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
While more and more communities now have COVID-19 test kits, getting tested often still means a long wait for the test and an even longer wait for the results.
But what happens if you think that you have COVID-19?
Can you get tested?
While there were originally strict criteria for who could get a test, including folks with COVID-19 symptoms, those who had contact with a known case, and anyone with recent travel to a hot spot, it has gotten to where almost anyone can get a test.
Not everyone needs a test though…
“Can someone test negative and later test positive on a viral test for COVID-19?
Yes, it is possible. You may test negative if the sample was collected early in your infection and test positive later during this illness. You could also be exposed to COVID-19 after the test and get infected then. Even if you test negative, you still should take steps to protect yourself and others.”COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions
Should you get tested if you were exposed to someone with COVID-19?
While it might seem like a good idea, understand that if you test negative, it doesn’t mean that you won’t develop symptoms and test positive later on in your incubation period (up to 14 days).
Are you going to get tested every day?
So no, you probably don’t need to be tested simply because you were exposed. You should self-quarantine yourself though and can consider testing if you later develop symptoms.
And you likely don’t need to get tested if you weren’t a close contact (within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes) of someone with COVID-19. Besides the fact that testing is still limited and should likely be reserved for those with symptoms, a negative test one day simply means that you are negative that day. Again, you could develop symptoms the next day or even later that day…
What Tests Are Used to Diagnose Covid-19?
If you are going to get tested for COVID-19, do make sure you get the right test though.
“A viral test tells you if you have a current infection.”CDC on Testing for COVID-19
You want to get a viral test (preferably the PCR test, as it is more reliable than the antigen test), and not the antibody test (blood test), which detects past infections.
Remember though, since there is no specific treatment for COVID-19, the only thing a positive test does is reinforce your need for self-isolation.
“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, and it can help with contact tracing.
While that can be useful, it is also important to understand that the COVID-19 tests can have false-negative results. So if you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, stay in quarantine even if you have a negative test.
What to Know About COVID-19 Testing
More tests for COVID-19 are now available, but not everyone needs to be tested, especially if they don’t have symptoms.
More on COVID-19 Testing
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- CDC – CDC releases consolidated COVID-19 testing recommendations
- CDC – Testing for COVID-19
- CDC – CDC Tests for COVID-19
- CDC – COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
- FDA – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Issues New Policy to Help Expedite Availability of Diagnostics
- FDA – Policy for Diagnostics Testing in Laboratories Certified to Perform High Complexity Testing under CLIA prior to Emergency Use Authorization for Coronavirus Disease-2019 during the Public Health Emergency
- WHO – Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) technical guidance: Laboratory testing for 2019-nCoV in humans
- COVID-19 Lab Guidance & Diagnostics
- ECDC – Laboratory support (for primary/and or confirmatory testing) by Coronavirus specialised laboratories in the EU
- COVID-19 Testing Kits Arrive at State Public Health Laboratories
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- States start testing for COVID-19, screening more broadly
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Last Updated on August 22, 2020 by Vincent Iannelli, MD