Covid Testing: What You Have to Know

Ideally, you should be able to get a coronavirus test at any time. However, in the United States, test availability varies across the country. In some places you still need a doctor’s prescription in order to be tested. In other communities, you can easily get tested by going to a clinic or even using a home testing kit. There are four main reasons to get a test.

Symptoms: Feeling sick is the most urgent reason to get tested. Dry cough, tiredness, headache, fever, or sense of smell are some of the most common symptoms of Covid-19. (Use this symptom guide to learn more.) While you wait for your results, stay isolated from others and alert the people you’ve been with in the past few days so they can take precautionary measures. Many tests are most reliable the first week you have symptoms.

Exposure: Did you find out that you recently spent time with an infected person? Have you been in a risky situation, such as a gathering in a hall or a large event, or in an airport and an airplane? You should quarantine and get tested. Unless testing is widespread and you only have one chance to get a test done, it is best to get tested five to six days after potential exposure to give the virus a chance to build on detectable levels in the body. Test too early and you may get a false negative result. If you’re in a city where getting a test is easy, get a test a few days after exposure. If this is negative, get tested again in three or four days. If you think you have been exposed to the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends quarantining at least seven days and getting a negative test result before returning to normal activity.

Precautions: Some people are tested as protection. In hospitals, you may need to be tested before certain invasive medical procedures or operations. Nursing home visitors can get a quick test before entering. Many colleges and boarding schools test students frequently and suggest testing them before leaving campus and on their return. If you do need to travel, it is a good idea to get tested before you leave and a few days after you arrive. A negative test result is never a free pass to mingle with others. However, knowing your infection status will reduce the chances of you unwittingly spreading the virus. Check the turnaround time at the test location near you and try to pinpoint the time so that you can get a result that is as close as possible to the event or visit. Even if your test result is negative, you must wear a mask, keep your distance from others, and take other precautions.

Community tests: In some cases, local health authorities will encourage full testing for everyone and offer testing in health clinics, pharmacies, and drive-through checkpoints. Testing many people will help measure the extent of the spread in an area and may help slow or stop the spread in areas where known infections have occurred. For example, in New York City, an advertising campaign by the Department of Health encourages people to get tested frequently, even when they feel good. “We learned that one of the ways we can effectively control this virus is to make sure that as many people as possible are tested at a given time so that we can take in people who are infected but don’t yet know they are Have infection. Said Dr. Jay K. Varma, Assistant Commissioner for Disease Control, New York Department of Health.

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