If you don’t feel well, you may wonder if you have COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Tests can tell whether you have it now. Antibody testing can show if you have already had it already.
There isn’t a specific treatment for COVID-19. So if your symptoms are mild, your doctor will probably tell you to recover at home and stay away from others. Even if you have had it, it is possible to get it again, so you may want to consider getting one of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Who Should Get Tested?
The CDC has offered the following recommendations for who should consider being tested:
- People who have symptoms of COVID-19
- People who have been exposed to someone who was COVID positive.
- Those who have taken part in an activity that would put them at risk because they could not properly socially distance (large gatherings, crowded indoor settings, travel)
- Those who don’t have symptoms but who are deemed a priority by local health departments or doctors
If you know or suspect you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested.
Types of Coronavirus Testing
The CDC recommends a COVID-19 test called a nasopharyngeal swab for coronavirus. A special 6-inch cotton swab is inserted up each of your nostrls and moved around for about 15 seconds. It won’t hurt, but it might be uncomfortable. The swab is then sent to a lab to test the material from inside your nose.
Other COVID-19 tests include swabs of:
- Your mouth and throat (oropharyngeal)
- The middle of your nostrils (nasal mid-turbinate)
- The front of your nostrils (anterior nares)
If you have a cough with mucus, called a “wet” or “productive” cough, your doctor might want to test some of what you can cough up.
Each state has several public health labs that does testing. For information about testing in your state, check online at the CDC.
“Serology” tests look for antibodies. Your body makes them when you’ve had an infection. These COVID-19 tests spot two types of antibodies:
- IgM, which your body makes for about 2 weeks before the levels drop
- IgG, which your body makes more slowly (within about 4 weeks) but which usually last longer
A swab or spit test can tell only if you have the virus in your body at that moment. But a blood test shows whether you’ve ever been infected with the virus, even if you didn’t have symptoms. This is important in researchers’ efforts to learn how widespread COVID-19 is.
Separate from the antibody tests, researchers are also studying antibody treatments for COVID-19. A drug targets how the virus attaches to and enters human cells.
Drive-through coronavirus testing
Some hospitals and agencies have set up centers where you can get a COVID-19 test without getting out of your car. You may need to register online or by phone, or you might need a doctor’s order first. Be sure to check before you go.
A technician in protective gear will ask about your symptoms and take your temperature. They’ll swab your nose or mouth and send it to a lab for testing.
How to Get Tested
Free COVID testing is available in most communities. Some locations require an appointment while others are drive-up. Antibody testing usually requires an appointment.
Most locations are listed online, but you can also call your doctor, your local hospital, the health department, or an urgent care center about testing locations near you. If you think it’s an emergency, call 911. Whoever you call, you’ll need to tell them about your symptoms over the phone or during an online visit. They may ask you some of these questions:
- Do you have a fever or cough?
- Do you have shortness of breath?
- Have you been in close contact (within 6 feet) with someone who has COVID-19?
- Has someone with COVID-19 coughed or sneezed on you?
- Have you traveled recently?
- Did a health official tell you that you’ve come into contact with COVID-19?
In addition, the FDA has approved several at home tests. They include home collection kits which are then sent to a lab for analysis, as well a few new rapid tests where you gets your results at home within minutes.
The at-home self-collection kits generally cost anywhere from $20 to $150 and can be found in some drugstores and retailers. Several major lab companies supply the kits, including LabCorp, Abbott, Cue Health, Quest Diagnostics and P23 Labs. You register the kit online with the test's company, take your own nasal swab and express ship it back, or in some cases, use an app to get results immediately. Test results are received either online or my email or text within 24 to 48 hours after the test is received by the lab.
The rapid tests include:
- BinaxNOW - The antigen test can be purchased online or at drugstores. Using their eMEd site or a phone app, you log into the site and an expert guides you through how to test yourself with a nasal swab. You receive results within 15 minutes.
- Ellume - This antigen costs about $30. It also uses an app to guide you through the process using a nasal swab and results are known within 15 minutes.
- QuickVue. Also an over-the-counter antigen test, you get two tests for about $25. After you swab, you put the swab in a solution and wait 10 minutes. you then put a paper strip in the solution and changes color to indicate positive or negative.
- Cue - This is a molecular COVID-19 test and should be available without a prescription.
- Lucira Health’s “All-In-One” - Costing less than $50, it requires a prescription. You collect a sample through a nasal swab that you then put in a vial of solution. You then put the vial into a portable, battery-operated device. Within 30 minutes a light on the device indicates negative or positive.
The FDA is also allowing use of a home saliva test from the Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory. You need a doctor’s prescription to get it. You spit into a vial and mail it to a lab
Where to Get Tested
You can check with your doctor or another health care professional, but many pharmacies and health departments advertise available locations. If you are being tested at a facility for the virus or for antibodies, you will have to wear a mask and may have to wait outside until time to be tested.
Home testing kits are available at some drug stores as well as through online purchase.
How Long Do Test Results Take?
It may take a lab about 24 hours to run your test. But you might not get your results for several days based on possible backlogs in the lab. Future tests might be faster.
Rapid test results take about 15 minutes but are not as accurate.
What Happens After I Get Tested?
A positive COVID-19 test means you currently have or recently had the virus. Monitor your symptoms and get medical help right away if you have trouble breathing, confusion, or bluish lips or face.
Take steps to avoid spreading the virus:
- Stay home, except to get medical care.
- Stay away from other people in your home.
- Wear a mask when you are around others in the house
- Don’t share dishes, cups, eating utensils, or linens with others.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands often.
- Clean and disinfect common surfaces like phones, doorknobs, or counters regularly.
If your test is positive and you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should isolate yourself until you meet all these criteria:
- It’s been at least 10 days since your symptoms began.
- Your symptoms have improved.
- You haven’t had a fever for at least 24 hours, without using any fever-reducing medication.
If you tested positive but didn’t have symptoms, isolate yourself for 10 days after the test.
Talk to your doctor about whether you should get tested again after isolation. There is no need to be retested if you have been in quarantine for 10 to 14 days.
If your COVID-19 test is negative, you probably didn’t have the virus at the time of the test. But you can still get sick later. Follow distancing guidelines, and wash your hands often.
There’s a very small chance that your COVID-19 test results could be wrong. This is called a false positive or false negative. Your doctor or health care professional will help you decide what to do based on your symptoms and health history.
When Is It an Emergency?
If you can’t get tested, you may still need medical help if you have a high fever or a serious breathing problem. Call your doctor or 911 to find out what to do.
Other signs that you need help right away include:
- Pain or pressure in your chest
- Trouble staying alert
- A blue tint to your lips or face