I. COVID-19 Testing Today

There are a limited number of test kits available, as well as shortages of protective equipment for healthcare workers, resulting in decisions about testing being made at the discretion of individual doctors and state and local health departments.

In addition, the Association of Public Health Laboratories currently recommends that doctors and clinicians prioritize testing for certain groups, and avoid mass testing so as not to deplete supplies of testing materials and protective gear. The three priority groups are:

  • healthcare workers and first responders with COVID-19 symptoms;
  • older individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, especially those who live in group settings like nursing homes; and
  • individuals with other illnesses whose treatment might change if they have COVID-19.

II. Current COVID-19 Testing in the U.S.

Currently, the CDC is not publishing complete data on COVID-19 testing due to the lag in time between when tests are ordered, when tests are performed, and when results are reported. 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 the positive and negative results, pending tests, and total people tested.

Over one million people have been tested for COVID-19 in the U.S.

19%

of individuals tested positive for COVID-19

81%

of individuals tested negative for COVID-19

As of 4/3 3:06 pm ET, the COVID-19 Tracking Project reported 1,267,658 total people tested. Of those individuals tested, 1,028,649 (81.15%) tested negative, while 239,009 (18.85%) tested positive. There’s an estimated 62,101 tests pending results.

There’s been a significant jump in testing from a week ago (3/26), which reported 519,338 people tested — that’s over two times the number of tests performed. Though, this has added to a substantial number of backlogged tests. There’s only 1,850 difference in pending test numbers from a week ago.

The number of hospitalizations have increased over three times in less than a week — 10,131 reported hospitalizations (3/26) and 32,649 (4/2). The number of reported deaths have increased even more with 1,163 deaths reported (3/26) and 5,784 deaths (4/2).

Number of Hospitalizations and Deaths from COVID-19 (March 21-30)
Source: The COVID-19 Tracking Project

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
  • Bluish lips or face

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. Based on current data, symptoms usually emerge 2-14 days after exposure to the disease. According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat

Other symptoms that have been reported to occur include nausea, diarrhea, runny nose, and loss of sense of smell and taste.

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, based on more recent data about the disease, 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 might also be at risk
  • 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

While ideally testing would be widespread to confirm cases and prevent further transmission of COVID-19, testing supplies are limited. Therefore, individuals who do not have any COVID-19 symptoms (even if they have been exposed to the illness), and individuals who have mild symptoms but are under age 65 and otherwise healthy are unlikely to be tested at this time.

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. They 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.

Individuals may also contact their state health department for information about where and how to get tested. At this time, decisions about who gets tested are still being made at the individual, local, and state level, and are largely dependent upon the availability of resources including tests and protective equipment.

VII. Additional Resources

NameWebsiteSummary
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.htmlThe 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)https://www.who.int/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)www.aphl.orgThe APHL is a nonprofit organization in the United States that represents laboratories that protect public health and safety.
State Departments of Healthhttps://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/fsis-content/internet/main/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/additional-recall-links/state-departments-of-public-health/ct_indexEach 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.

VIII. Sources