WebMD BlogsPublic Health

When Should I Get Tested for COVID-19?

woman headache
By Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RNJune 29, 2020

When we first started hearing about COVID-19 in the U.S., the symptoms of the virus – and thus, the criteria for testing – seemed pretty straightforward: If you have a fever and a cough, get tested (if your doctor has access to a test). But as doctors and researchers learned more about the virus (and more people were tested and diagnosed), it became clear that the symptoms were not so straightforward– and sometimes not present at all. So, now that there’s a laundry list of “maybe” symptoms, how do you know when to get tested?

First off, if you have the hallmark signs and symptoms of infection from the coronavirus – fever and coughing – you definitely should get tested. Don’t try to self-diagnose. If you’ve got a fever and other symptoms, call your healthcare provider and let them take it from there. In fact, if you’re feeling unwell at all for more than a few days, give your healthcare provider a call. Better to get a diagnosis than to suffer.

And even asymptomatic people may want or need to get tested. For instance, if you believe you’ve been exposed to the virus, you should check your local guidelines regarding testing and contact tracing. Or, if you work in a high-risk environment like a hospital or a prison you might qualify for testing even without symptoms.

It may not be that simple to obtain a test, though.

Each state (and sometimes county or municipality) sets its own standards for who can obtain a COVID-19 test. This situation partly stems from the early shortage of tests, which required authorities to prioritize who could and could not receive testing. In some places, these shortages have eased, but that doesn’t mean everybody now can go out and get tested.

California, for example, classifies people into three “tiers” for testing purposes and leaves the ultimate decision about who to test up to each “Local Health Officer.”

Florida guidelines state that doctors and county health department officials will determine, on a person-by-person basis, who can get tested for COVID-19.

In all states, people with symptoms of the coronavirus receive priority for testing. If you’re symptomatic, call your primary care provider for instructions on how and where to get tested.

If you’re not symptomatic, then your local guidelines will determine whether or not you can get tested. To find out if you’re eligible for a test, look on your state’s website.

COVID-19 tests can be either molecular (detect the virus’ own genetic material) or antigen (detects proteins on the surface of the virus) based. Antigen tests provide rapid results but slightly less accurate; molecular tests require hours or days to return results but detect a higher percentage of active infections than antigen tests do.  If tests are widely available in your area and the speed of the results matters to you, then I’d recommend you choose a location based on the type of testing they offer.



WebMD Blog
© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Blog Topics:

More from the Public Health Blog

View all posts on Public Health

Latest Blog Posts on WebMD

View all blog posts

Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.

Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.

Read More