With all the headlines about COVID-19, you must be wondering if you’ve had the coronavirus or not. But which test do you need? And should you get it? Also, how do you safely leave your home and have a test done? Review these 11 COVID-19 testing mistakes so you’re sure you know what to expect and that you’re doing it right.
Since there are two very different tests, make sure you take the right one. If you think you have coronavirus right now and want to confirm or deny your suspicion, you need a viral test, which will “tell you if you currently have an infection with SARS-CoV-2,” says the CDC.
The other test is an antibody test. Get that if you want to know if you’ve had the virus already. “Antibody blood tests, also called antibody tests, check your blood by looking for antibodies, which show if you had a previous infection with the virus,” says the CDC. An antibody test won’t be able to tell you if you currently have COVID-19.
The Rx: Discuss with your doctor or state health department rep whether you feel sick or think you already had coronavirus. They’ll be able to tell you which test you need and if you qualify to get it.
Antibody tests are slowly becoming readily available and you may be able to contact a local physician’s office to schedule one if you want to see if you’ve already had the virus. However, viral tests are still in short supply so you shouldn’t get one done unless you need it.
If you have mild symptoms of COVID-19, the CDC recommends assuming you have it and self-isolating. High-priority viral testing is saved for:
- Hospitalized patients who have symptoms.
- Healthcare facility workers or essential workers exposed to many people.
- Residents in long-term care facilities or other group living arrangements.
You may also need a test if you’re experiencing severe symptoms related to coronavirus or if you’re prioritized by your clinician or another healthcare professional for any reason.
The Rx: If you only have mild symptoms, self-isolate from other people, get rest, and drink plenty of fluids. Contact your doctor to check on your symptoms and go to the hospital immediately if you have shortness of breath or other serious symptoms.
While your doctor or another public healthcare facility may be able to provide you with an antibody test, you might have to go to a designated testing site for a viral test.
The Rx: Go where your doctor tells you or contact your state health department to obtain a list of testing facilities in your area. Hours may be limited and there may be detailed instructions you’ll need to follow, such as “Stay in your car.” Make sure you go over these instructions with a healthcare representative before heading to the testing site.
If you suspect you had a mild case of the virus but you want to make sure, it’s tempting to run to a healthcare facility and ask for an antibody test as soon as you feel well enough. But according to the CDC, antibodies may not show up in your body until one to three weeks after you had the virus.
The Rx: If you rush to your healthcare provider for an antibody test, you may get a false negative because the antibodies simply aren’t showing up yet. Wait at least a week after you start feeling better before you begin searching for a healthcare facility that can give you an antibody test.
Although there are more viral tests available than when the virus first began to spread, you still need a doctor’s order before you can get one. If you show up at a local testing site without a doctor’s order, you’ll more than likely be turned away.
The Rx: Your doctor may not have access to a viral test but if you call your physician and discuss your symptoms, you may be provided with orders to get a test. (At some urgent care centers, you can see a doctor and get a test on the spot; contact yours.)
So far, proper tests are only available if a doctor deems it necessary. If you see testing kits being sold through unauthorized sellers, to anyone who walks in, buyer beware.
The Rx: It’s simple: Discuss your situation with a doctor before seeking any old test.
If you suspect you may be infected with COVID-19, do your part to make sure you don’t spread the virus to others. Always wear a face mask to ensure your infectious droplets don’t spread anywhere else. This is especially important when you head to a testing site for your viral test or to a healthcare facility for your antibody test. You’ll be in close quarters and interacting with other people so you don’t want to spread the virus if you have it.
The Rx: Review all current safety guidelines of the testing site or healthcare facility before you go. Wearing a face mask should be high on the list. Keeping your mask on for as long as you can when you’re out in public lowers the risk that you’ll infect other people if you have the virus.
You got your doctor’s order, you have your mask on, and you’re ready to head to the testing site. If possible, it’s best to go at it alone. If you suspect you have COVID-19, you should already be self-isolating so you don’t spread the virus to your household members. Hopping in the close quarters of a car with your family members is one sure-fire way to spread the virus to the ones you love.
The Rx: If you feel well enough to drive, head to the testing site alone and try to stay away from your household members until you can confirm you don’t have COVID-19. If possible, avoid public transportation and unnecessary interactions with other people.
An antibody test is designed to test for antibodies your body may have developed to fight off COVID-19. If these antibodies are present in your system, it’s likely you already had and recovered from coronavirus. However, this test can’t tell you if you’re currently carrying the virus. According to the CDC, “An antibody test alone cannot tell if you definitely have COVID-19.”
The Rx: If you feel sick and want to know if it’s coronavirus, don’t have an antibody test completed. Call your doctor and see if you’re eligible for a viral test to find out if you’re sick with the virus or something else.
Viral testing is not always 100% accurate. If you get a viral test completed and it comes back negative, keep in mind, it could be a false negative. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Even with test sensitivity values as high as 90%, the magnitude of risk from false test results will be substantial as the number of people tested grows.”
The Rx: Even if your viral test comes back negative, it’s still important to take the proper precautions. Continue to social distance and don’t hang out in large crowds. Keep your surfaces at home disinfected and wash your hands frequently.
If your antibody test came back positive, you may assume you’re free and clear. You’ve already had the virus so there’s no way you can get it again, right? According to the CDC, “It’s unclear if those antibodies can provide protection (immunity) against getting infected again. This means that we do not know at this time if antibodies make you immune to the virus.”
The Rx: If you tested positive for antibodies, you may have already had coronavirus but that doesn’t make you immune to catching it again or spreading it. Remain cautious and continue to follow the public safety orders that are in effect in your area.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.