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Testing for COVID-19, what does it all mean and cost?

When the COVID-19, coronavirus pandemic cases were rapidly trending upwards, there was a shortage of tests, which was a significant problem. Testing was only being done on those who had traveled to a country with an outbreak, had a known exposure to someone with the virus, or who showed obvious symptoms. Now access to testing is available for a broader range of folks, and oftentimes, you can get tested even if you are asymptomatic.

Here are some common questions asked concerning testing for the virus.

1) Should you get tested for the virus?

Not everyone needs to get tested for the virus. Symptoms for COVID-19 (fever, chills, fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle/body aches, headache, loss of smell or taste, sore throat, nausea/vomiting, congestion, runny nose, diarrhea) may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus; call your doctor before making any moves with regard to testing.

2) What kind of COVID-19 testing is available?

Two widely used tests can determine a current COVID-19 infection or a past one. The nasopharyngeal swab, administered by a technician, is a six-inch cotton swab (like a Q-Tip) that is inserted and rotated up and inside both sides of the nostrils for about 15 seconds. The procedure can be quite uncomfortable. A lab will analyze what is produced from the swabbing.

The antibody test, also known as a serology test, is done with a blood sample that may identify past infection of the virus. It’s a test that looks for evidence of the body’s immune response to the virus. Antibodies are detected in the blood after infection.

The FDA has also allowed the use of a home saliva test kit to protect health care professionals from being exposed to the coronavirus at testing sites. These kits can cost upwards of $100 and a physician’s prescription is required to obtain one. The test involves spitting saliva into a vial that then gets mailed to a lab. There is also a do-it-yourself nasal swab kit that a patient can perform then send to a lab; a doctor’s prescription is also required. “Specifically, for tests that include home sample collection, we worked with LabCorp to ensure the data demonstrated from at-home patient sample collection is as safe and accurate as sample collection at a doctor’s office, hospital, or other testing sites. With this action, there is now a convenient and reliable option for a patient sample collection from the comfort and safety of their home,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said in a statement.

3) Where can you get tested?

Your healthcare provider can advise on where to go for COVID-19 testing. Each state has public health labs that do testing. Contact your state health department to get location information.

4) You tested positive for the antibodies, now what?

The medical community still does not know if testing positive for the virus will make you immune. If there is such thing as immunity to the virus, doctors do not know how long it will last. So, until researchers have more information on this new viral strain, you might still be susceptible to the virus even if you’ve had it before.

5) I’ve tested positive for the coronavirus but have no symptoms!

You can be cleared of the virus only after ten days have passed since your last test. Your healthcare provider will probably want you to have two negative test results in a row at least 24 hours apart before they can label you safe to be around others.

6) What about those drive-through COVID-19 testing facilities?

Some hospitals and agencies have set up temporary testing centers where folks can just drive up and get tested for the virus while still in their vehicles. Doctor’s orders for this type of testing might be required. The centers are usually staffed by technicians who will ask you questions about your symptoms, swab your nose or mouth, then send the results to a lab.

7) How long do you have to wait for the results of your coronavirus testing? 

Generally, the results will become available within two to five days, depending on the laboratory testing demands and resources.

8) What if I test positive for COVID-19?

If you test positive for the virus, you’ll need to take precautions, particularly if you are sick or caring for someone. But the FDA has not approved any medications for patients with COVID-19. It is currently recommended to take care of yourself at home as you would for any other viral illness, including rest, and drinking plenty of fluids. Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter medications that can help ease a few of COVID-19’s symptoms.

9) If my test result is negative, does this mean I don’t have COVID-19?

Not necessarily. If you tested negative, you might not have been infected when you provided your sample. The lag in getting results for most tests means it cannot identify someone who has been infected after the sample collection and before the results are known. The swabs may miss catching a sample of the virus and give a false negative test.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms or know you have been exposed to someone with the virus, your doctor may ask you to self-quarantine for a period of time.

10) If I test positive for the coronavirus, do other household members need to be tested as well?

Clinicians DO recommend that those in your close circle of contacts self-quarantine for 14 days. If they become symptomatic, then they should consult with their physician. If symptoms become severe, then a trip to a hospital emergency room is advised.

11) How much is testing for the virus?

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