Coronavirus testing checks to see if you are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, better known as COVID-19. The CDC estimates that about 15% of Americans, or three in every 20, had COVID-19 within the first 10 months of the pandemic, but prior infection doesn’t prevent reinfection with a different strain of the virus.
Why should you get tested
Infection with the COVID-19 virus can be fatal, especially for those with preexisting health conditions, such as obesity, hypertension, HIV or hepatitis, and among the elderly. If you’ve contracted COVID-19, you may be completely asymptomatic, or your symptoms may take up to 14 days to emerge following exposure.
Getting a COVID-19 test is the only way to know whether or not you have the virus. While you are infected with COVID-19, you can easily pass the infection on to others, even if you don’t feel ill.
Who should get tested
You may need to get a coronavirus test before having surgery, prior to traveling on a plane, or if your employer requires regular COVID-19 testing. You could decide to get tested for COVID-19 if you or your loved ones are at increased risk of serious illness or death from the virus.
When to get tested
You should get tested five to 14 days after a possible or confirmed COVID-19 exposure. If you need a coronavirus test for school, work, travel, or other reasons, you can get tested anytime. There is no limit on the number of COVID-19 tests you can safely take.
Unlike many other types of diagnostic tests, there’s no special preparation required prior to your COVID-19 test. You don’t need to fast, take any medications, or speak to your doctor.
The test used to see if you’re infected with the coronavirus is called a viral test. The viral COVID-19 test checks a sample of mucus or saliva taken from your nose or throat. To extract a sample, the health care provider inserts a long, sterile nasal swab (called a nasopharyngeal swab) into your nose. The swab is gently swirled to collect the sample, removed, and placed in a test tube for processing at a medical lab.
Depending on where you complete your coronavirus test and the specific type of test used, it can take anywhere from an hour to a few days to get your test results.
Once your sample has been processed, you can access the results, which will either be positive or negative. You should contact your doctor or the local health department to find out what to do if you’ve tested positive, as rules around self-isolation and retesting vary.
If you’ve had a COVID-19 test because you’ve been exposed to the virus, you must self-isolate while you await your results, so you don’t risk spreading the virus to others.
Learn more about coronavirus (COVID-19) testing from our sources.