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Supported by:
Brown School of Public Health   The Rockefeller Foundation

getting
the test

Testing delays, capacity shortfalls and misinformation have created misconceptions about the availability, functionality and usefulness of tests. Explore this page to familiarize yourself with evidence-based campaign messages on who should get tested, why people should get a test, and how testing works. 

who should get tested

To stop the spread of COVID-19, many of us need to get tested every once in a while — even if we don’t have symptoms. It protects our families and friends, and is a great way to help in the fight against the coronavirus. But how do you know if you should get a test, and when? Check out this list — if any one of these items is true for you, it may be time to get a COVID-19 test:

You may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19

Get tested 5-7 days after the encounter. Take additional precautions for 14 days after.

You attended a large gathering

If you attended a wedding, a party, or a protest, indoors or outdoors, and didn’t wear a mask or keep physical distance, it’s time to get a test. You should also consider getting a test is you attended an indoor gathering with people not living in your household.

Get tested 5-7 days after the event. Take additional precautions for 14 days after the event.

You work as a first responder or in an essential industry

You work as a first responder or in an essential industry, such as grocery stores, doctors offices and pharmacies, and your employer, city or state offers free asymptomatic testing. You may want to get tested at least every other week if possible.

You work closely with others outside your home

If you work with others outside your home, for example in a nursing home, food processing plant, or in a moving or outdoor landscaping company, it is possible that your employer, city or state offers free asymptomatic testing for you.

You may want to get tested at least every other week if possible.

You sat indoors at a bar or restaurant

You sat indoors at a bar or restaurant without a mask and without keeping a physical distance.

Get tested 5-7 days after the event. Take additional precautions for 14 days after the event.

You traveled on a plane or took a multi-day car-ride

You traveled on a plane or took a multi-day car-ride and were not able to distance and wear a mask at all times (for example, because the airline filled the seat next to you or it was a long trip and you needed to eat inside the airport, or stop at a hotel). Get tested 5-7 days after your trip. Take additional precautions for 14 days after.

You are pregnant

Talk to your doctor about the right time to get tested.

You have an underlying medical condition

You have an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, heart or lung disease, or a compromised immune system, and have visited a high-risk setting such as a bar, a gathering or school. Get tested 5-7 days after the visit. Take additional precautions for 14 days after.

You are over 65

If you have been seeing friends, work outside the home, or have made trips to the mall or other community places, you should get a COVID-19 test.

Get tested 5-7 days after the event. Take additional precautions for 14 days after the event.

There is a large outbreak in your community

Even if the outbreak is in a school, college or prison, people who work there may cross paths with you. Check your city and state websites for information about free testing to curb the outbreak.

Download the Informational Flyer

This PDF is available in multiple languages. Check out our translations page to download this material and more.

why should healthy people get a test?

To rule out the possibility that you have COVID-19 and don’t know it

Get tested for COVID-19 to make sure that you are not an asymptomatic carrier of the virus—that is, someone with the virus who doesn’t have any symptoms but can still spread it to others. According to the CDC, as many as 4 out of 10 people who have COVID-19 may not show symptoms. Asymptomatic spreaders are a major reason containing this virus has been so challenging.

To take action early if you do have COVID-19

Another reason to get tested is that if you are in the early stages of a COVID-19 infection, detecting it early allows you to quickly isolate, rest and recuperate, monitor your symptoms, and if needed, seek medical care. It also allows contact tracers to begin tracking down anyone who may have been exposed.

To spend time with friends and family—especially those at high risk

After months of staying apart, many of us are eager to reconnect in-person with friends and family. If you plan to spend a prolonged period of time with loved ones, stay away from high risk activities for 10 days and then get tested. This is especially important if a friend or family member is more likely to develop serious outcomes from COVID-19, a group that includes older adults, those with underlying medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, as well as pregnant women, and anyone with a compromised immune system. Protect your loved ones by staying away from high risk activities and getting tested before you visit.

To get the economy going again

Getting tested for COVID-19 brings reassurance to those going to work, especially if you work in a high-risk setting such as schools, universities, grocery stores or as a first responder. Participate in free screening testing in your workplace or city, or find your own testing site to show fellow coworkers, employers, teachers, and customers they can feel safe and secure working and doing business with you. This, in turn, helps keep businesses open, economies running, all while keeping everyone safe and healthy.

To help get the virus under control

We’ve all worked hard to flatten the curve. As we move into the fall and winter, widespread testing among healthy people helps to stop the spread of COVID-19. Screening healthy people, staying on top of positive cases, identifying new outbreaks quickly, and being aware of how the virus spreads among people without symptoms, is a powerful tool in our efforts to suppress the virus.

It is important to remember that a COVID-19 test is a one-time assessment, and will only show if you are infected at the time of the test. Everyday prevention measures, such as handwashing, physical distancing and mask-wearing should always be practiced, even after you have been tested. If you are a front line worker, college student, or you’re frequently in high-risk situations, routine testing is the best way to confirm your negative status over time.

Download the Informational Flyer

This PDF is available in multiple languages. Check out our translations page to download this material and more.

how to get a test: a step by step guide

Getting a COVID-19 test and not sure what to expect? It is normal to feel anxious or unsure about testing. Our quick guide takes the mystery out of the process—testing should be easy and painless.

Here is what you need to know.

1

Find a testing site in your area. COVID-19 tests are available for free nationwide at community testing sites, hospitals and health centers, and some stores and pharmacies. Many communities also offer pop-up testing clinics on specific days. Some employers and college campuses have started on-site screening testing for employees and students.
To find out what testing options are available in your area:

  • Call your doctor or primary care office and ask about testing options

  • Search the internet using the term “free COVID-19 testing near me”

  • Visit your state or regional health department’s website and look for COVID-19 testing information. Many states now have online screening forms that can get you pre-approved for asymptomatic testing

  • Call a local pharmacy or health center in your area and ask for help finding a free testing site

Make sure the testing site offers diagnostic tests, which tell if you have an active COVID-19 infection. There are two categories of diagnostic tests: molecular (or PCR) tests and antigen tests. Both are safe and easy to administer.

Note: There is still confusion about who should get tested. If a site tells you they only test people with symptoms, try a different one.

2

Make an appointment. Many testing locations require making an appointment ahead of time, either online or by phone. How soon you get an appointment depends on the regional demand for COVID-19 testing, so book in advance. Be prepared to submit basic contact information and answer simple questions about your health.
In most parts of the U.S., you do not need to pay for an asymptomatic COVID-19 test, even if you are uninsured. It’s best to confirm this when making an appointment.

3

Plan ahead. After booking your appointment, look up the address to make sure you know how to get to the testing site. If taking public transit, check bus and train schedules and determine how much time you’ll need for travel. Some testing sites may be outside, so check the weather and dress appropriately.
If you booked an appointment online, check for a confirmation email and review it for any special instructions.

4

Arrive at the testing location. Depending on where you live, testing sites generally fall into these categories:

  • Drive-through sites allow you to stay in your car for the duration of the testing process.

  • Walk-up (or pop-up) sites are outside, usually in a convenient part of town. People walk through the different stations of the test.

  • On-site testing involves being tested inside a health clinic, pharmacy, or another facility.

After arriving, look for people or signs directing you where to go next. To protect yourself, other patrons and health workers, you should keep your mask on at all times until instructed otherwise.

5

Get swabbed. Diagnostic tests work by analyzing samples taken from your nose, mouth, or throat.
During the test, a health professional will swab the inside of your nose, your throat, or cheek. This is a quick and painless process. In some cases, a deeper swab from the very back of the nose is taken, but this way of testing is becoming less common for asymptomatic tests. Sometimes, people will be asked to collect the sample themselves while a health professional observes. This helps to reduce close contact between people.
Some of the newer tests only need a saliva sample, which involves spitting into a container or taking a mouth swab, and can be administered at home.

6

Get your results. Certain tests produce results in as little as a few minutes to a few hours. Other tests take up to a few days to process. If you are not informed immediately, staff will email, call you or ask you to check an online portal to get your results. Labs prioritize positive results and will attempt to reach those people as soon as possible, so be sure to answer any unknown phone calls.

If you need to wait for results and continue to not have any symptoms, you can go to work or school and continue with regular activities as advised during the pandemic. It is crucial that we all continue to practice everyday prevention measures, such as proper handwashing, physical distancing, and mask-wearing.

7

What if you test positive?
If you test positive, someone from the health department or doctor’s office will call you and give you specific instructions. Remember that between 20 and 40 percent of people who test positive for COVID-19 never develop symptoms, and of those who do develop symptoms, most have a mild illness and can recover at home without medical care. If you test positive, it is vital that you stay at home and separate yourself from anyone you live with. Please also help your health department figure out who else might have been infected by answering questions about people you have come close to recently.

Download the Informational Flyer

This PDF is available in multiple languages. Check out our translations page to download this material and more.

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