[5 minute read]
In this article:
When should you get tested for COVID-19?
Where should you get tested for COVID-19?
What should you do after you get your results?
Testing is essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19, and in particular, the highly contagious omicron variant. Figuring out when and where to test, or finding a test, can be confusing. Many local pharmacies have run out of home or self-tests, and appointments at testing sites are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Wondering about where and when to get tested and what to do according to your results? A Swedish expert and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have some answers for you.
When should I get tested?
- According to updated guidance from the CDC, fully vaccinated people should get tested five to seven days after being in close contact with a person suspected of having or who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
- If you are symptomatic or become symptomatic (regardless of vaccine status) you should get tested immediately and isolate from others, till test results are back.
- If you test positive, you should isolate for at least five days. (Day zero is the first day of symptom onset.) Isolation may end after day five, if symptoms improving and you are fever free for at least 24 hours without fever reducing medication. You should continue to wear a mask for days six through 10 and avoid traveling/crowded public areas where you may come in close contact with high-risk individuals. If you cannot mask, then you should isolate for a full 10 days.
- In general, this guidance does NOT apply to healthcare workers who are around vulnerable patients.
- Use the CDC’s COVID-19 Viral Testing Tool can help you decide when to get tested and help you understand your results.
Where should I get tested?
- The CDC says self-tests or home tests may be used if you have symptoms or have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19.
- Even if you don’t have symptoms, a home test can give you information about your risk of spreading COVID-19 to others. This is especially important when gathering with unvaccinated children, older individuals, those who are immunocompromised, or individuals at risk of severe disease.
- Remember, though, a test, whether it be PCR or antigen, is only a snapshot of your COVID-19 status at the time of collection. You could become positive in one or more days due to the viral incubation period.
- If you need a test but can’t get one at your local drugstore or pharmacy, you should visit a local testing site, not a hospital emergency department. Go to these sites for more information about COVID-19 testing, locations and guidance:
- City of Seattle COVID-19 testing
- King County COVID-19 testing locations and guidance
- Washington State Department of Health testing for COVID-19
What kinds of tests are used to detect COVID-19?
COVID-19 tests can detect either the virus that causes COVID-19, or the antibodies that your body makes after having an infection or getting vaccinated.
- Viral tests use samples swabbed from your nose or mouth to look for a current infection. These tests can be performed in a lab, at a testing site or with a self-test at home. Viral tests include polymerase chain reaction (PCR), or molecular, tests which are conducted in a healthcare setting and have been considered the gold standard for viral tests since their authorization for use in 2020. PCR tests look at the genetic material of the coronavirus. These are different from at-home or rapid tests, which test for antigen fragments of the virus.
- Antigen tests, by contrast, detect specific proteins on the surface of the coronavirus. Although antigen tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, they are very specific and a good test to identify if someone is actively shedding viral particles.
- PCR tests may remain positive after infection for up to 90 days (as it continues to detect residual/low levels of genetic material from the virus), but this does not correlate with transmission, and you should not repeat PCR testing, unless you become symptomatic again.
- Antibody tests help scientists learn about COVID-19 and the immune system and should not be used to diagnose a current infection, but may indicate if you’ve been infected in the past.
What kind of test should I get?
Viral testing is recommended:
- If you have symptoms of COVID-19.
- If you’ve had close contact with someone with COVID-19. You should get tested at least five days after the last close contact.
- If you are not up to date with your COVID-19 vaccine.
- If you have been asked or referred to get testing by your school, workplace, healthcare provider, state, tribal, local or territorial health department.
Antibody testing is recommended:
- To determine past infection.
- If your healthcare professional recommends one for you.
Antibody testing is not recommended:
- To determine if you are immune to COVID-19 following COVID-19 vaccination.
- To decide if someone needs to be vaccinated.
If you need a test but can’t get one at your local drugstore or pharmacy, you should visit a local testing site, not a hospital emergency department. Check with the Washington State Department of Health for COVID-19 testing locations.
What if I tested positive, but I have no symptoms?
- The CDC says you should isolate for at least five days and wear a well-fitting mask around others at home and in public for an additional five days. Day zero is the day the sample was collected for a positive test result.
- This shorter time frame does not apply to children younger than two years old who cannot mask, immunocompromised individuals or those living in congregate settings.
- Follow these recommendations for isolation.
What if I test negative, but still have symptoms?
- You may have received a false negative and you should follow these isolation guidelines.
- If your symptoms worsen, contact your healthcare provider.
- If you were in close contact with someone with COVID-19, you may still develop symptoms.
- If you are not vaccinated or have not completed a primary COVID-19 vaccine series, or if you have not received all recommended booster shots, you should quarantine.
What’s the difference between isolation and quarantine?
- You should quarantine and stay away from others when you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.
- You should isolate when you are sick or when you have COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms.
- Here are the CDC’s recommended isolation and quarantine times based on vaccination status.
Find out the latest updates on how we’re handling COVID-19.
Find a doctor
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish ExpressCare Virtual connects you face-to-face with a practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.