Conversation Guide: COVID-19 Testing

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Even if you are vaccinated, you can get infected with COVID-19 and may not know it because you may not feel sick at all. By getting tested and staying away from others until you know the results, you can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect your community. 

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Who can get tested for COVID-19?

People are getting tested regardless of whether they are vaccinated and regardless of whether they feel sick because it makes our communities safer. Anyone can get tested, including adults and children. Some tests are even available for babies.

Why is it so important to get tested for COVID-19?

Even if you are vaccinated, you can get infected with COVID-19 and may not know it because you may not feel sick at all. By getting tested and staying away from others until you know the results, you can help stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect your community. 

Get tested to:

  • Protect your loved ones: You will know if you need to stay away from others. 
  • Protect your community: When you do your part to stop COVID-19 from spreading, you are helping to keep schools and businesses open.
  • Protect yourself: You can start treatment earlier if you do have COVID-19, which can help prevent you from getting seriously ill. 

When should someone get tested?

Get tested:

  • Regardless of whether you are vaccinated, get tested for COVID-19 if you have any of these symptoms: cough, shortness of breath, fatigue (tiredness), sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle pain or body aches, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, or loss of taste or smell.

    Other viruses like influenza (the flu) and the common cold can have many of the same symptoms so the only way to know for sure if you have COVID-19 is to get tested.
  • A few days after you have been around someone else who tested positive, even if you don’t feel sick. This is especially important if you were closer than 6 feet (2m) for a total of 15 minutes within a 24-hour period.
  • Before and after you travel
  • Before and after you gather indoors with many people
  • If it is required for school or work

How do I find a testing site or testing kit?

You may be able to get a test at a doctor’s office, a community testing site, work, school, or a pharmacy. Many pharmacies also carry at-home tests you can do yourself, and some allow you to order tests online.

All medical tests, including COVID-19 tests, are confidential. You can get a confidential test regardless of your immigration status or whether you have medical insurance or an ID.

What is testing in a clinic like?

Before you test
If you get tested at a doctor’s office, pharmacy, or community testing site, they may ask you:

  • Contact information like your address and phone number.
  • Information like your age, sex, or race.
  • For your health insurance card. You can get a test even if you do not have health insurance.
  • Whether you have been vaccinated, when you were vaccinated, and which vaccine you received.
  • If you have been around someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19.

Cost
Some tests are available for free and other tests cost money. Contact your health department for more information.

Test procedure
A healthcare professional may collect a sample from you, or they may ask you to do it yourself. There are three main ways to collect a sample:

  • Saliva test: Spit into a tube
  • Nasal test: Take a sample from your nose with a swab (long Q-tip)
  • Throat test: Take a sample from your throat with a swab (long Q-tip)

Some people think the swab (long Q-tip) is uncomfortable, but testing is fast and safe, and it should not hurt.

What is testing at home like?

There are many different at-home tests, and each test has instructions on how to test at home. Be sure to read all the instructions carefully. Many tests can be done yourself, without any technology or assistance from a health professional. However, for some tests:

  • You may need to log onto a website or download an app
  • You may need to take the test while a healthcare professional watches you on video from your phone or computer
  • You may need to put your test in the mail

Cost
Some tests are available for free and other tests cost money. Contact your health department for more information.

Test procedure
A healthcare professional may collect a sample from you, or they may ask you to do it yourself. There are three main ways to collect a sample:

  • Saliva test: Spit into a tube
  • Nasal test: Take a sample from your nose with a swab (long Q-tip)
  • Throat test: Take a sample from your throat with a swab (long Q-tip)

Some people think the swab (long Q-tip) is uncomfortable, but testing is fast and safe, and it should not hurt.

How long does it take to get results?

Some tests give you results within 15 minutes (at-home tests), and other tests may take a day or more.

What should I do while I wait for test results?

Protect your community:

  • Stay home and away from others, especially people at higher risk for getting very sick such as the elderly and people with other medical conditions.
  • Wear a mask if you must be around others.
  • Make a list of the people you have been around recently. It will be a good idea to contact them if you test positive so they know they should get tested, too.

What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

Take care of yourself

  • Rest and drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Take medicine to help with your fever if needed.
  • Watch for severe symptoms. If you have any of these severe symptoms, seek emergency medical care immediately:
    • Trouble breathing
    • Constant chest pain or pressure 
    • Confusion
    • Cannot wake up or stay awake
    • Changes in skin color

      There may be other severe symptoms so don’t hesitate to call a medical provider if you are worried.
  • If you are not already vaccinated or have not gotten your booster, you can get a shot after you recover. Ask your doctor about when you can get a vaccine.

Take care of your community:
Staying home from work, school, or social events if you test positive or anytime you feel sick is one of the most important things you can do to protect your community.

When you test positive, you will need to stay home and away from others for 5 days and wear a mask for 5 more days.

Contact anyone you have spent time with in the last few days and tell them they should get tested, too. 

Take care of your loved ones:
If possible, protect the people you live with by: 

  • Staying in a separate room and using a separate bathroom.
  • Not sharing items such as cups, utensils, dishes, and towels.
  • Wearing a mask at all times and practice social distancing  

If I test positive, will that affect my immigration status or whether I can get a green card or become a citizen?

No. In the U.S., a person’s medical information is private and cannot be shared with U.S. immigration officials or the police. Whether your test is negative or positive, the results will only be shared with other medical workers who are working to keep people healthy and stop the spread of COVID-19. 

You can get a confidential test regardless of your immigration status or whether you have medical insurance or an ID. Personal data collected during vaccination such as addresses and phone numbers are only used for public health purposes.

What should I do if I test negative?

If your test comes back negative this means the virus was not detected. However, a negative test does not mean you will not get sick later. Test again if your symptoms don’t go away or as often as needed to make sure you continue to protect your community. 

Sometimes at-home tests will come back negative even when you are sick because there is not enough of the virus in your nose or mouth for the test to work. If you used an at-home test, take a second days a few days later to be sure you do not have COVID-19.

If you do not feel sick, you do not need to stay home and away from others, but it is a good idea to continue to wear a mask when you leave your home.

Regardless of whether you are vaccinated, you can protect yourself and others by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and staying home when you feel sick.

If you are not already vaccinated, get your vaccine right away. If you are vaccinated, be sure to get a booster. This will help protect you from getting seriously ill if you get sick later.