After months of COVID-19 outbreaks across the United States, the virus doesn’t look like it will disappear any time soon. Anyone who experiences symptoms or might have come into contact with an infected person should get tested.
Testing for COVID-19 is an important part of preventing it from spreading further. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who have COVID-19 need to completely isolate themselves from others for 10 days after their first day of symptoms. Then, they may only stop isolating if they have been free of a fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
Because the pandemic has been deadly and is so frequently discussed, needing a COVID-19 test might trigger anxiety in some people. Knowing what to expect and how to prepare can help calm your nerves and ensure the testing process runs smoothly.
Types of COVID-19 Tests
According to the CDC, there are two types of COVID-19 tests: a viral test and an antibody test.
These tests are conducted differently and serve different purposes. Most people who need a COVID-19 test will receive a viral test, which is also called a diagnostic test.
The COVID-19 Viral Test
The purpose of the viral test is to check if a person is currently infected with COVID-19. This is the test that is most commonly conducted. When the CDC and media outlets discuss COVID-19 test results, they are generally referring to the viral test.
When conducting the viral test, a medical professional uses a long cotton swab to collect a sample. Most of the time, they swab the patient’s nasal cavity, which requires putting the swab up the patient’s nose. This might feel uncomfortable, but shouldn’t hurt.
Some healthcare workers take throat swabs instead of nasal swabs, though these are less common. Less common still are saliva tests, in which the medical professional obtains a sample by asking a patient to spit into a cup.
The COVID -19 Antibody Test
The purpose of the antibody test is to see if a person has been infected with COVID-19 in the past. When a person has a viral infection, their body develops antibodies to that virus. As a result, we can know that anyone with COVID-19 antibodies present in their blood once had COVID-19.
The antibody test is a blood test. It requires a medical professional to draw a small amount of blood, usually from the patient’s arm. The antibody test does not reveal if a person is currently infected with the virus.
Preparing for your COVID-19 Test
There are a few things you can do to prepare for your COVID-19 test.
Schedule an Appointment
If you think you have COVID-19, do not simply show up to your doctor’s office or the emergency room. Instead, set up an appointment in advance either online or over the phone. The Georgia Department of Public Health offers free testing to anyone who wants it.
Because COVID-19 is so contagious, doctors’ offices and hospitals are limiting the number of patients they admit at a given time. If you show up without an appointment, you might be turned away.
Whether you’re being tested by your primary care physician or at a free drive-through clinic, it’s wise to bring your ID. Even if you don’t have insurance and are receiving a free test, ID might be required. Bring yours so you aren’t turned away.
Wear a Mask
Your testing site will likely require everyone waiting for a test to wear a mask. Be sure to bring yours. Without it, you will either be given one to wear or sent home.
Expect to See Protective Gear
The medical professionals conducting COVID-19 tests wear protective gear to reduce their risk of contracting the virus. Expect to see healthcare workers in face masks, goggles, plastic face shields, gloves, gowns, and other protective gear.
Ask How to Receive Results
Make sure you know how to receive your results before you leave. Some testing centers call patients, while others require you to make a phone call or check a website to find out your status.
Millions of Americans will require COVID-19 tests in the coming months.
The Georgia Department of Public Health offers free COVID-19 tests to any state resident who wants one. If you experience symptoms or come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, getting tested is the smart, kind thing to do.
Written by: Jay Summer