Coronavirus tests are becoming more widely available, and you may be tempted to take one. But there are tons of myths flying around out there about these tests, including what they’ll tell you and how you can get them done.
If you really want to know if you currently have the virus or already had it, it’s important to understand how the viral or antibody tests work. Bust these common COVID-19 testing myths and set the right expectations before getting tested.
COVID-19 testing kits are becoming more readily available than they were when the virus first began to spread. However, you shouldn’t head to a testing site as soon as you get a sore throat. The country is still experiencing a shortage of tests so they’re being reserved for those who truly need to know if they’re infected.
Consult your doctor or a local health department representative to learn if you should get tested. If you have severe symptoms, such as shortness of breath or bluish lips, head to the hospital immediately for treatment. You may be tested for coronavirus while you’re there.
The antibody test is different from the viral test. An antibody test is meant to see if your body has certain antibodies it may have developed as it was fighting off COVID-19. If you test positive for antibodies, it’s likely that you already had and recovered from the virus.
If you’re sick and suspect you have coronavirus, the antibody test may still show a negative result. Your body must be completely recovered from coronavirus before it potentially builds up antibodies that will cause you to test positive. If you want to know if you currently have the virus, you need a viral test and not an antibody test.
Although the availability of viral tests for COVID-19 has increased, you can’t simply show up to a testing site and ask for one. Since the country is still experiencing a shortage of tests, a healthcare professional or a representative from your health department must refer you first before you can get a test done.
Antibody tests are also becoming more readily available at healthcare facilities and doctor’s offices. But you shouldn’t just show up and ask for one. Call the facility first and ask about their procedures for getting an antibody test.
If you tested positive for antibodies, it means you may have already had COVID-19 and recovered from it. Whew, it’s all over, right?! Not necessarily. According to the CDC, there isn’t enough research yet to know if you’re immune to the virus once you’ve already had it. There’s a chance you could get infected again.
While you may have already had the virus, you’ll still need to behave as if you could get it again. Continue to carefully follow your local official’s guidelines, including social distancing or staying at home. Frequently wash your hands and be cautious about touching surfaces while in public.
No test is 100% accurate and unfortunately, this applies to COVID-19 viral and antibody testing. A study on coronavirus testing in China concluded that about 30% of the tests came back with false negatives. As more and more people get tested, the percentage of false negatives the test provides may increase. Even if you test negative for the virus, continue to act as if you have it and could spread it to those around you.
If you suspect you have the virus, you may assume you can simply show up to your doctor’s office to get a test. However, that may not be the case. In many areas of the country, the only way to receive a viral test is with a referral from a healthcare professional and by visiting a designated testing site.
Contact your state health department to find out about local testing sites in your area. While you may need to contact your doctor for a referral to get a viral test, in most cases, your doctor’s office won’t be able to actually perform the test.
While you may need to pay for an antibody test if you choose to take one, a viral test for COVID-19 is free. Whether you have insurance or not, if you received a proper referral from a healthcare provider for a viral test, you shouldn’t be charged for the test due to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Keep in mind, however, if you visit your doctor’s office for a consultation in regards to the virus, you’ll still be charged the regular costs.
You’re pretty sure you had the virus but now that you feel better, you’re dying to know for sure. Before you make an appointment for an antibody test, give it some time. According to the CDC, “Antibodies don’t show up for 1 to 3 weeks after infection.” Some people may take even longer for their body to build up antibodies and test positive for them.
It’s best to wait a few weeks after you begin to feel better before getting your antibody test. Otherwise, you may test negative for antibodies when you actually did have and recover from the virus.
While the testing procedure for a viral test may vary by testing site, it doesn’t include a blood draw. In most cases, to perform the viral test, a healthcare professional will use a cotton swab and insert it into your nose. Your nasopharyngeal secretions are tested and can tell if you currently have coronavirus.
Some testing facilities rub a cotton swab inside your mouth to test your saliva. Your test specimen is sent to the lab and processed to determine if you have the virus. The time it takes to get test results depends on the lab that’s used and the number of tests that need to be processed in your area. A testing site representative should be able to provide you with an accurate timeframe for when you’ll receive results.
Currently, valid COVID-19 viral tests are only available at testing sites and other approved healthcare facilities. The FDA released a recent statement about the many fraudulent companies offering bogus “test at home” kits. The FDA warns, “We want to alert the American public that, at this time, the FDA has not authorized any test that is available to purchase for testing yourself at home for COVID-19.”
While the FDA is working on more efficient methods of testing for the virus, there are currently no valid at-home testing kits that have been approved by the organization. If you think you need a viral test, contact your medical provider to discuss your symptoms and your eligibility for a referral to a testing site.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.