I tried to get a COVID-19 test recently and was surprised the experience was nothing like I’d expected. I have been feeling perfectly fine, but I have been around a handful of individuals in outdoor settings for socially distanced hangs, so I figured it would just be a good idea to get tested – just in case. So I just hopped online and typed in “COVID testing near me” and was instantly overwhelmed by the results. I thought they were just handing these out on street corners! Not so at all. I also thought it was a blood test. Also not true – that’s for the antibody test, but not for the COVID-19 test. Those who fear needles may be relieved to hear that, but the actual test for COVID-19 isn’t much more pleasant than a little prick to the arm. If you are going to get your first COVID-19 test, there are some things worth knowing in advance. There are a lot of questions circulating out there, that it can be hard to find answers to, so we’ve tried to put them all here.
You’ll likely need an appointment
Though in some towns you can just walk up to a clinic and potentially get tested within 15 minutes, that’s actually pretty rare. And if it’s important to you to have a test on a certain timeline, then you should schedule an appointment online. You may find there are none available for several days. So waiting until the last minute may ruin your plans.
You may need to drive
My nearest testing site is a 23-minute drive. Oh, and that one doesn’t have appointments for weeks, which pushes me to a testing site that’s a 45-minute drive away. Really, start looking into appointments very early. You may need to move things around in your schedule to accommodate what you find. I’ll drive a total of 90 minutes to get my test, on a weekday.
Results also take time
Results can take three to five days. So take that into account for when you make your appointment, and don’t push it on that timeline. If you need a negative test result in order to be admitted to some event in six days, it could already be too late to get tested today. If there is even the tiniest lag in your results, it may be too late for you to attend your event.
There are two types of tests
There is the mouth swab test, and the nose swab test. The idea is for the medical professionals to get cells from your nose and throat. The nose swab test is supposed to be quite uncomfortable – it’s been described as inhaling water through your nose – and makes many people cry. You should know that many testing sites only offer one type of swab or the other, so if you’re particular about your type of test, ask that question in advance.
You may need to fast, briefly
You’re asked not to drink anything for a full hour before your test, as this can interfere with the reading of the cells. Don’t try to skip this step, since it can make your test results invalid, and then you have to start the process of scheduling an appointment all over again.
You can likely get a free test
This will vary from state to state and city to city, but you should be able to find a free test. Many cities are now offering free testing sites. Furthermore, in some states, even if you do have insurance, and they are billed, your insurance isn’t allowed to charge you any sort of co-pay. Research free test sites in your county or neighboring counties before handing over any money for a test.
You may need to qualify
If appointments or tests are limited in your area, then you may need to qualify for a test. Those who are experiencing symptoms take priority, as well as those who work in any sort of medical facility, nursing home, or retirement home, as well as private nurses who work with elderly or immunocompromised individuals. If none of that describes you, you may need to get in line.
Tests aren’t entirely accurate
No test is 100 percent accurate, and since the COVID-19 test is still so new in the grand scheme of testing, it’s too soon for experts to fully weigh in on its accuracy. That being said, stories have circulated of tests producing false negatives as much as 30 percent of the time. Some patients who were found to be infected received several negative test results.
So use common sense, too
The biggest concern, naturally, is a false negative. If a false positive sends someone into quarantine, there isn’t much harm done there to the public health. But a false negative can give someone the impression that they’re free to go about their lives, potentially spreading the virus. So if you get a negative test result, but you feel sick, quarantine. Even if it isn’t COVID-19, you clearly have something else if you have symptoms, so just stay home.
Don’t flake on an appointment
Do not treat these appointments lightly. If you get one, go to it. Don’t flake on it because your symptoms have eased up, or because the event that required a test result has been canceled. You only benefit from knowing the results, either way. And remember that there are many people who need those appointments, so when you flake on one, you waste an appointment that somebody else could have taken.
A negative isn’t a hall pass
If you get a negative test result and feel fine, that is not a hall pass to live carelessly. Remember it only takes an instant – really, just a second – to become infected. Your negative test result only means that none of your interactions leading up to that test infected you. But, honestly, you could become infected in the days between taking the test and getting the results.
Don’t bring a buddy
If you want to bring a companion to get tested, only bring someone from your household, as you can’t separate yourself from them, anyways. But don’t grab a friend from another household to keep you company. You can’t keep six feet of distance in the car, and you could infect your friend, while going to get tested.
Approach slowly and read signs
Every site has different rules. Some are true drive-up sites, where you stay in your car, and someone takes your swab through your window. Some have you park, and get in line for an outdoor test under a tent. Some have strict rules about not approaching the actual testing table or going inside the building. Read the signs. Don’t get out of your car until you know you’re allowed to. Don’t enter buildings or roped off zones unless you have permission.
You may get a flu test first
Some sites may administer a rapid flu test, the results of which you can have within 15 minutes, before administering a COVID-19 test. The reason for this is that COVID-19 and flu symptoms are very similar, and the staff would like to rule out the flu before giving you a COVID-19 test. Flu tests are much easier to come by, so if you do have the flu, they would rather not waste a COVID-19 test on you.
Call people with your results
If you test positive, call everyone you’ve interacted with and inform them. They need to know if they need to quarantine, and/or keep an eye on the development of symptoms. But even if you test negative, call the people with whom you’ve interacted – they deserve the peace of mind.