Skip to content

Here's Why You Should Get Tested for COVID-19

Here's how to know when to go.
Side close view of female doctor specialist with face mask holding buccal cotton swab and test tube ready to collect DNA from the cells on the inside of a woman patient

Is your new cough due to coronavirus or just allergies? Should you slip out to the grocery store (following all proper protocols)—or might you infect 10 people with something? Getting tested for COVID-19 can help you make the responsible decisions for your health and the health of others—and more tests are being offered in your area every day. Here's how to know when you should get tested.

1

You're Showing Symptoms

Sick man lying on sofa at home and blowing nose
Shutterstock

The CDC states that people with these symptoms or combinations of symptoms may have COVID-19: a cough and shortness of breath or at least two of the following symptoms: fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell. If you're experiencing those, ask your medical provider if you should be tested.

Also note: "Given the high rate of false negatives, up to 30%, I would recommend repeating a test in 3 to 5 days if clinically not better," says Dr. Cathy Wang, MD, advisor for Fruit Street Health and CovidMD.

2

You're an Essential Worker

Female anaesthesiologist writing the updates
Shutterstock

"If you are a healthcare worker, a worker in a jail or a nursing home or first responder, and you have a cough with fever, you should get tested," says Dr. Leann Poston. "A positive test with symptoms affirms that you have COVID-19 and should isolate yourself from others."

3

You Have Other Conditions

Doctor making blood sugar test in clinic for diabetes
Shutterstock

"If you have secondary medical conditions, knowing your COVID status if you have fever and cough, may guide decision making in terms of your other conditions," says Dr. Poston. For example, older adults, people with HIV, asthma, cancer, diabetes and other underlying conditions are more at risk.

4

To Help the Community

A doctor in a protective suit taking a nasal swab from a person to test for possible coronavirus infection
Shutterstock

It's possible that "you are part of a community-wide screening program and have been asked to take a test to determine the incidence of COVID-19 positivity in the community," says Dr. Christine Traxler. "This is an epidemiological test used for public health and research purposes rather than for your own health, although if you test positive, you should self-isolate for two weeks."

5

When the Usual Remedies Aren't Working

Large, adult dose container of Tylenol gels
Shutterstock

"If you have worsening or unrelenting fevers despite the use of antipyretics e.g. Ibuprofen or Tylenol, and/or unexplained onset of breathlessness or difficulty breathing, you should get a test," says Koye Oyerinde MD DrPH, a pediatrician & health policy expert in Minot, ND.

6

You Live With High-Risk Family Members

Senior man at home wearing protection mask
Shutterstock

"You may want to test if you live with vulnerable people—elderly parents and grandparents, others with severe chronic diseases—asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and those with immunosuppressive diseases—cancer, AIDS, and transplant therapy," says Dr. Oyerinde. "Children under five years of age may also be vulnerable."

7

You're a Hospital Patient

Young woman wearing face mask in clinic ward recovering from coronavirus disease. Sick
Shutterstock

"Hospitalized patients should have COVID-19 testing because the test results may help guide medical management," says Dr. Poston. Furthermore, if doctors know you tested positive, they can wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE). 

8

What to Keep in Mind

Side close view of female doctor specialist with face mask holding buccal cotton swab and test tube ready to collect DNA from the cells on the inside of a woman patient
Shutterstock

Also, if you are experiencing the following symptoms, the CDC recommends you seek medical attention immediately: "In the hospital, when someone presents with fever, cough, shortness of breath and/or diarrhea that does not have an alternative diagnostic explanation, especially in individuals at higher risk, then I will test that person," says Dr. Lili Barsky. "However, it is very important to know that while you are awaiting the test result, you remain a person under investigation (PUI). During this period, evaluation and management for other possible diagnoses may be deferred and/or withheld." Also, if you are experiencing the following symptoms, the CDC recommends you seek medical attention immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Emilia Paluszek
Emilia specializes in human biology and psychology at the University at Albany. Read more