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How to Get Tested for Coronavirus

You have symptoms? Here’s how to get the test.

So you think you might have coronavirus (COVID-19)—yikes!—and in the initial days of the pandemic, there has been some confusion about the availability of test kits and how to get tested. Today, the CDC said that the COVID-19 test is available in all 50 states at 78 state and public local health labs. Eat This, Not That! Health consulted the experts for the official recommendations on how to get a COVID-19 test. If you have symptoms, these are the steps you should take.


Determine if You Have COVID-19 Symptoms

Young ill woman in bed at home

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the symptoms of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) are fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

Who should be tested? "People who are hospitalized, the elderly, and people who have conditions that might make them more likely to have a severe infection need to be tested," says Amesh Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

"We want to test some mild cases to get an understanding of what the spread of this virus is in the community, but I don't necessarily think every person needs to be tested," he adds. "For many people, this is going to be a very mild illness, won't need hospitalization and can be taken care of at home, just like with the common cold, with over-the-counter medication. I want to be mindful of not inundating our labs right now with a lot of tests." 


Call Your Healthcare Provider

woman uses her phone and laptop

The current advice isn't to head into an emergency room or your primary care doctor's office—if you have COVID-19, you might infect others. "You don't necessarily have to go to the ER to get these tests, and also you don't want to expose people in the waiting room," says Adalja.

Instead, if you suspect you have coronavirus, call your healthcare provider and describe your symptoms, and tell them if you've been in close contact with anyone who has COVID-19 or live in or have recently traveled from an area with a  COVID-19 outbreak. You can also call your local health department for advice.


Follow Their Instructions

Doctors work at the desk

Your healthcare provider will tell you where to go to be tested. You might have to report to a special lab; only certain labs are authorized to conduct COVID-19 testing.


Prepare for the Test

Surgical masks on a table

Your healthcare provider may ask you to wear a mask to your appointment or take other steps to avoid infecting others. (The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask if you are well.)


Take the Test

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

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the COVID-19 test may involve one of the following steps:

  • Swab test: A special swab is used to take a sample from the back of your throat 
  • Blood test: A sample of blood is collected from a vein
  • Nasal aspirate: A saline solution is injected into your nose, then removed with gentle suction
  • Tracheal aspirate: A thin, lighted tube called a bronchoscope is inserted into your lungs, where a sample is collected
  • Sputum test: If you're coughing up mucus, it may be collected and tested

Wait for the Results

Scientist examining bacterial culture plate in a microbiology research laboratory

The CDC has approved a rapid test for COVID-19, but the time it takes to get results may vary, from under an hour to several hours. If your results are negative for coronavirus, your healthcare provider may order further testing. If you test positive, it's likely you have a coronavirus infection. 


Follow Instructions

with closed eyes drinking clean mineral water close up, young woman holding glass

There is no specific treatment for coronavirus, the U.S. National Library of Medicine says. But your doctor might recommend steps to reduce your symptoms, including rest, drinking plenty of fluids and taking over-the-counter pain relievers. 


Avoid Spreading the Infection

woman sneezing on her elbow.

If you're diagnosed with COVID-19, the CDC recommends taking the following steps to prevent infecting others:

  • Stay home from work or school, and don't go out in public places.
  • Monitor your symptoms. If they worsen, call your healthcare provider ASAP.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes. 
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that's at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Try to stay in a room separate from other people in your household. Use a separate bathroom, if possible. Wear a face mask if you need to be around others.
  • Avoid sharing items like dishes, towels and bedding.
  • Frequently clean surfaces that are touched often, like counters, tabletops and doorknobs.

And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don't miss these 101 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more