I. Covid Testing Today

As the capacity for diagnostic testing for coronavirus has increased, the guidelines for when to get tested have relaxed somewhat. However, exactly who can get tested for COVID-19 and what the steps are varies by location in the U.S.

Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all individuals who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19, or exhibit symptoms of the disease to get tested.

II. Current Covid Testing in the U.S.

Currently, the CDC is publishing complete data on COVID-19 testing. Data on virus testing is crucial to understanding the COVID-19 outbreak and how to shape our public health response. The COVID-19 Tracking Project is attempting to fill the public health data gap by reporting daily on the positive and negative results, pending tests, and total people tested. However, after a year of compiling, cleaning, and standardizing data from 56 individual states and territories, The COVID-19 Tracking Project stopped collecting data on March 7, 2021 and will release its final report in May 2021.

More than 371 million people in the U.S. have been tested for COVID-19.

By the end of March 2021, the CDC reported 371.6 million people tested. Of those individuals tested, 31.56 million (8.49%) tested positive.

III. When to Get Tested for COVID-19

If you suspect that you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, you can use the following protocols to determine if you should be tested. These recommendations are based on guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and state and local health departments.

The CDC has a Self-Checker tool that individuals can use to help them determine if they need to seek testing for COVID-19.

Are you severely ill?

You should seek testing and treatment for COVID-19 immediately if you start to experience any of the following emergency warning signs:

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

If you have other symptoms that are severe or concerning, you should also consult a medical provider immediately.

However, if you are not experiencing severe symptoms, you may not need to get tested. The questions below will help you determine the necessity of testing for COVID-19.

Have you been exposed to the coronavirus?

Generally, exposure to the coronavirus comes from having close contact with an infected individual. Close contact includes the following:

  • Living with someone who is sick with COVID-19
  • Caring for a person who is sick with COVID-19
  • Being within six feet of a sick person for 10 minutes or more
  • Being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person via kissing, sharing utensils, being coughed on, etc.
  • Recent travel to a coronavirus hotspot

Do you have symptoms of coronavirus?

If any of the above criteria apply to you, pay attention to whether you start displaying any symptoms of COVID-19. On average, symptoms appear 5-6 days after an individual has been infected, although it can take up to 14 days after infection for symptoms to emerge. According to the World Health Organization, the most common COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Tiredness

Other notable, yet less common symptoms, include

  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Headache
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Skin rash, or discoloration of fingers or toes

Rule out other illnesses

Many of these symptoms are also indicative of other respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold and the flu. Before trying to get tested for COVID-19, make sure you rule out other illnesses that have similar symptoms, but can be treated with over-the-counter medications.

IV. Who needs to be tested for COVID-19

Despite early information that young people were unlikely to be affected by COVID-19, as the disease has spread it is clear that it does not discriminate against anyone. However, there appear to be certain factors that can put individuals at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, or for more severe consequences if they become ill. People are considered high-risk if they fall into the following categories:

  • Adults ages 65 and older
  • People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised, including those receiving cancer treatment
  • People of any age with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] >40) or certain underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as those with diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease
  • Pregnant women may be at higher risk

If you belong to any of these groups, have been exposed to COVID-19, are displaying any of the symptoms listed above, and have ruled out other illnesses or conditions, you should contact your doctor or local health department about getting tested for COVID-19.

If you do not fall into one of these categories, but have been exposed to COVID-19, are displaying symptoms, and have ruled out other illnesses, you still may not need to get tested. For healthy individuals, most cases of COVID-19 are mild, and can be treated at home.

V. Who does not need to be tested

Increases in testing capacity have meant that certain states and counties have relaxed their standards for testing, and are even encouraging people to get tested whether they have symptoms or not.

In fact, researchers have indicated that the U.S. needs to significantly increase the number of diagnostic tests it’s performing in order to safely phase out social distancing measures. This extends to testing asymptomatic individuals who may be inadvertently transmitting the disease.

However, the testing process is still not foolproof, especially for asymptomatic individuals, so a negative test result does not necessarily mean you are not infected.

VI. Where to go to get tested

If you believe that you meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing, you should start by contacting your regular medical provider. They will let you know if your symptoms meet their standards for testing, and if so, where you can go to get tested. Your provider can also provide you with guidance for treating your symptoms at home and self-quarantining to prevent potential spread of COVID-19, if it is determined that you don’t need to be tested.

Because testing availability and criteria varies by state, individuals should contact their state health department for the latest information about where and how to get tested.

VII. 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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