COVID-19 Testing FAQs

Everything you need to know about COVID-19 tests

(RxWiki News) Pharmacists in all US states can now order COVID-19 tests and administer them. As testing continues to ramp up, here's what you need to know.

Testing for COVID-19 can help combat the pandemic by informing those who are sick that they may be contagious and should self-quarantine or seek medical care.

It can also help health officials understand how many cases there are in specific cities and states so that they can better equip themselves to prevent and treat COVID-19 infections.

As more people are getting tests, many will likely have questions about the various COVID-19 tests and what they mean. Read on for answers.

What are the available types of COVID-19 tests?

There are several types of COVID-19 tests. Each type uses a slightly different method or tests for a slightly different thing.

  • Antigen Tests – Using a respiratory sample, COVID-19 antigen tests look for antigens that come from the virus that causes COVID-19.
  • Molecular or PCR Tests – These tests look for a COVID-19 genetic material called nucleic acid in respiratory samples taken from patients.
  • Serology Tests – Serology tests look for COVID-19 antibodies in a blood sample. Antibodies are proteins created by the immune system to attack pathogens in the body.

Who should get a COVID-19 test?

Although testing can be helpful, not everyone needs to get a COVID-19 test. According to the Therapeutic Research Center (TRC), the following groups of people should be given priority for coronavirus testing when they have symptoms:

  • Residents of nursing homes, prisons, long-term care facilities and other places where people live close together
  • First responders
  • Health care workers
  • Hospitalized people

Sore throat, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, muscle pain and chills can all be symptoms of COVID-19 infection. Reach out to your health care provider for guidance on whether you should be tested. And be sure to follow state and local testing guidelines.

What do positive or negative coronavirus test results really mean?

Virus test results may not always be completely clear. Sometimes, a positive result can mean that you most likely — not definitely — have COVID-19. In other cases, a negative test result could be incorrect.

Based on the type of test, here's what positive and negative results might mean, according to TRC:

  • Viral (Antigen Testing and/or Molecular or PCR Testing) – A negative result means you most likely do not have a current COVID-19 infection. A positive result means you most likely do have a current infection.
  • Antibody (Serology Testing) – A negative antibody test result means you probably never had an infection. A positive result means you probably had an infection at some point.
  • Viral and Antibody Testing – If you test negative for the virus and antibodies, you likely never had an infection. If you test negative for the virus and positive for antibodies, you likely had an infection and recovered from it. If you test positive for the virus and negative for antibodies, you most likely have a current infection. And if you test positive for the virus and antibodies, you most likely have a current infection.

Rely on your health care provider to help you interpret your unique test results.

I had a positive COVID-19 test. How long should I self-isolate?

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, it's important that you isolate yourself to prevent the spread of the virus to others. But for how long?

According to guidelines shared by TRC, those who have tested positive and experienced COVID-19 symptoms can stop self-isolating if all of the following are true:

  • It has been at least 10 days since symptoms began.
  • Symptoms like shortness of breath and cough have improved.
  • You have had no fever for at least 72 hours without using fever-reducing medicine.

If you tested positive for COVID-19 but did not have any symptoms, self-isolation can be stopped if at least 10 days have passed since the test and you have still had no symptoms, according to TRC.

Can I test myself for COVID-19 at home?

At the time of publication, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had not approved any COVID-19 tests that could be completed at home and give results at home. However, some tests allow for the collection of samples that are to be sent to testing facilities. For example, one test allows the user to collect a saliva sample at home and send it to a testing lab at Rutgers University.

Keep in mind that some tests are considered fraudulent and should not be used. To learn more about unapproved COVID-19 tests, click here.

If you have questions about COVID-19 tests or prevention, speak with your pharmacist or doctor.

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Review Date: 
July 16, 2020