Getting Tested for COVID-19

Do you want or need to get tested for COVID-19? Do you know which test to get?

We have been hearing it over and over for some time now – anyone who wants a test can get a test.

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.

As testing has become more widely available, that is somewhat true.

There are still some problems with COVID-19 testing though.

Chief among them is making sure you get the right test!

Getting Tested for COVID-19

First things, first.

Do you really need a test?

Many people who are not hospitalized might not need to be tested for COVID-19.

“Most people will have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care and may not need to be tested.”

Testing for COVID-19

The main reason that testing can be important though is that it can help limit your exposing others to SARS-CoV-2 once you have been exposed or suspect you are infected. And it can also help trace the people you have already been in contact with before you knew that you should be in quarantine.

Which COVID-19 Test Do You Need

If you think you are sick and want to get tested, do make sure you get the right test though, a viral test for current infection.

You do not want the antibody test (blood test), even though it may give rapid results, if you think you are sick now. The antibody test only checks for past or recent infections.

“CDC does not currently recommend using antibody testing as the sole basis for diagnosis of acute infection, and antibody tests are not authorized by FDA for such diagnostic purposes.”

Overview of Testing for SARS-CoV-2

Once you have narrowed down your test to the viral test for current infection, you might still have a choice to make, as there are several types, including:

  • Molecular Diagnostic Tests for SARS-CoV-2 – uses nucleic acid amplification techniques (PCR) to detect the RNA of the virus. These tests don’t necessarily take long to run, but since samples typically have to be sent out to a lab, that slows down the time to get results, sometimes up to 7 business days.
  • Antigen Diagnostic Tests for SARS-CoV-2 – detects fragments of proteins that the virus makes. Can give rapid results, in 15 minutes, but are more prone to false negatives than molecular tests.

Ready to get tested now?

There is still the problem of where to get tested…

Ideally, you might want to go to some kind of mobile, drive-through testing site, so that you don’t have to expose anyone else as you get tested. Unfortunately, those kinds of testing centers are not widely available.

Another ideal choice would be your own pediatrician. Are they doing COVID-19 testing?

With the Sofia2 analyzer, pediatricians can get rapid test results in just 15 minutes.

Lastly, you might just have to see if you county or state health department has a list of places doing testing.

What to Do After Your COVID-19 Test

What happens after your test is done?

  1. You are waiting for test results. Stay in isolation until you know the results!
  2. You are positive for COVID-19. You should stay home, in isolation, unless you need medical attention, only ending your isolation until you have gone 3 days without fever AND your respiratory symptoms have improved AND it has been 10 days since your symptoms first appeared. You should also tell all close contacts (anyone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before the person began feeling sick until the time the patient was isolated) that you tested positive so that they can self-quarantine for 14 days.
  3. You are negative for COVID-19 and don’t have symptoms after a recent exposure. Since the incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 is 7 to 14 days, a negative test before the end of the incubation period doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually develop COVID-19. You should likely remain in self-quarantine.
  4. Your COVID-19 antigen test was negative and you do have symptoms. Since this might be a false negative, depending on your health care provider’s suspicion that you could actually have COVID-19, they might now do a molecular diagnostic test for SARS-CoV-2. Or they might just recommend that you remain in self-quarantine.
  5. Your COVID-19 molecular diagnostic test was negative and you do have symptoms. Although more accurate than the antigen test, there is still the possibility that this could be a false negative. Whether or not you remain in self-quarantine depends on your health care providers suspicion that you could have COVID-19. Did you have a known, close exposure to someone with SARS-CoV-2, for example?

Are you ready to get tested?

More on Getting Tested for COVID-19

Author: Vincent Iannelli, MD

Vincent Iannelli, MD

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