I. Who Needs to Be Tested for COVID-19?

As the capacity for diagnostic testing for COVID-19coronavirus has increased, the guidelines for when to get tested have relaxed somewhat. However, exactly who can get tested and what the steps are varies based on where you live.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these guidelines for prioritizing who should be tested for the coronavirus:

Highest Priority:

  • Hospitalized patients with symptoms
  • Healthcare facility workers; workers in congregate living settings, and first responders with symptoms
  • Residents with symptoms who are living in long-term care facilities or other congregate living settings, including prisons and shelters

Priority

  • Those with symptoms of potential COVID-19 infection
  • Individuals without symptoms who are prioritized by health departments or clinicians, for any reason, including but not limited to: public health monitoring, sentinel surveillance, or screening of other asymptomatic individuals according to state and local plans

Individuals who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19, or exhibit symptoms of the disease are still encouraged to contact their individual doctor, or their state or local health department, for guidance on when and how to get tested.

Those Individuals experiencing any of the following symptoms of severe illness should seek medical attention and testing immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face
  • Loss of speech or movement

Even if you are experiencing minor COVID-19 symptoms and are not older than age 65 or immunocompromised, you should contact your healthcare provider. They will determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19. Your healthcare provider also can provide guidance for treating your symptoms with over-the-counter medications or and self-isolating if necessary.

II. The Top COVID-19 Testing Methods

One of the essential steps in treating COVID-19 and stopping the spread of the disease is widespread testing to determine who has been infected. While widespread testing in the United States has lagged for a variety of reasons, the good news is that diagnostic procedures have been established, and many labs and companies are working on developing faster testing methods.

Currently, the most common coronavirus testing method is the antigen test, which detects specific proteins from the virus. This method shows positive results in five minutes and negative results in 13 minutes. This method, which uses a platform called ID NOW, allows for samples to be tested on-site rather than being sent to a lab. Antigen tests are not as sensitive as previous molecular, or RT-PCR, tests and may produce a false negative. Therefore, the antigen tests are approved for use with symptomatic patients only. Despite this drawback, antigen tests are the driving force of point-of-use testing because of their lower cost, simpler design, and ability to produce test results on-site as opposed to being shipped out to a lab.

Both antigen and RT-PCR testing require a healthcare worker to swab a patient’s nose or throat to collect a sample of mucus. The most common method of sample collection has been a nasopharyngeal swab, in which a long Q-tip-like swab is inserted deep into the nasal passage. However, the FDA is now allowing individuals to use short swabs to collect samples from the front of their nostrils. Samples can also be collected from an individual’s throat.

If a patient has a productive cough, healthcare workers can collect a sample of phlegm to be tested, as the CDC recommends testing lower respiratory tract specimens when available. The CDC also recommends collecting a sample from the lower respiratory tract if the patient is receiving invasive mechanical respiration. It is currently thought that the virus reproduces in the respiratory tract, so samples collected directly from a patient’s lungs may contain more evidence of the virus. The CDC does not recommend inducing phlegm to get a sample.

III. Should You Take an At-Home COVID-19 Test?

You don’t have to go to a testing site or doctor’s office to get a COVID-19 test. Now, self-testing kits, also referred to as at-home COVID-19 tests, are available by prescription or over-the-counter at a pharmacy.

At-home tests allow individuals to collect their own samples, through nasal swabs, and mail or deliver them to labs for testing. Some tests require a saliva specimen. They are ideal for individuals who are still under stay-at-home orders, and alleviate some of the burden on healthcare workers, who may lack the gear necessary to protect them from individuals carrying the disease. Not to mention, at-home tests are convenient and easy to use.

Read more: At-Home COVID-19 Testing

Ultimately, knowing exactly who has had COVID-19 will help public health experts understand how widespread the disease is, and may help them develop treatments and vaccines.

Read more: When to Get Tested for Coronavirus

IV. Additional Resources

Website Summary
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC is the United States’ leading national public health organization. Its mission is to protect public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability in the U.S. and abroad.
World Health Organization (WHO) A specialized agency of the United Nations, WHO is responsible for international public health. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, it has field offices worldwide.
Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) The APHL is a nonprofit organization in the United States that represents laboratories that protect public health and safety.
State Departments of Health Each state in the U.S. has its own department of health. These public health departments are currently coordinating efforts for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

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