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Months after the arrival of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in our communities, many of us still have questions about the virus.

Do I have COVID-19?

I had a fever last month. Was that coronavirus?

Whether you’re concerned or just curious, you’ve probably wondered about testing for COVID-19. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

What kind of COVID-19 testing can I get?

There two types of testing available, which have important differences. The most common test is what’s called a viral test, or PCR test. This type of test detects the virus and will tell you if you are currently infected with the novel coronavirus. Your provider may order this nasal swab if they believe your current symptoms are caused by the virus, or if you are being screened prior to surgery.

Antibody testing is also available and is designed to identify people who have recovered from the virus. It can take up to 4 weeks after recovery to see these antibodies (the body’s defense system against germs such as viruses). Your provider might recommend this blood test if you have previously shown symptoms and want to know if they were caused by COVID-19.

For both tests, be sure they are run at reputable laboratories with high standards for accuracy.

Should I get a viral test for COVID-19?

While many people are interested in being tested for COVID-19, the truth is not everyone needs to be tested. You should consider getting tested if you have symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, cough, shortness of breath or sudden loss of taste or smell. You may also want to be tested if you have a known exposure to the virus – meaning someone you have been in close contact with has a confirmed COVID-19 infection.

In some cases, your provider might recommend you get tested for novel coronavirus even if you are not experiencing any symptoms, such as if you are scheduled for surgery.

If you’re concerned that you might have COVID-19, contact your primary care provider for advice on treatment and testing.

Should I get an antibody test for COVID-19?

Many of us have had coughs and cold-like symptoms earlier in the year, before testing for COVID was available, and wonder if it was COVID-19. Even if you know you had COVID-19, you might be curious to learn if you developed antibodies. In either of these cases, please talk with your physician or advanced practice provider to see if this test is appropriate for you.

What’s the test like?

During a viral test, a swab that looks like a long Q-tip is used to collect a sample from the inside of the nose.

You will usually be asked to tilt your head back. Then, the swab will be inserted through your nose into your nasal cavity. This can be uncomfortable, but it should not be painful, and lasts only a few seconds.

You may be asked to blow your nose or breathe through your mouth to make the collection process easier.

If you are tested for antibodies, you will be asked to give a blood sample.

Here’s more about what you can expect during COVID-19 testing.

Where do I go to get tested?

Testing for COVID-19 can be performed in several locations. Call your primary care provider or the COVID-19 Nurse Hotline if you aren’t sure where to go or how to get tested. They might give you instructions for testing at an OSF location, or they could refer you to another community-based testing site.

What should I do after my test?

You might be asked to isolate yourself after your sample is collected to lower your risk of being exposed to the virus, especially if you have an upcoming surgery or procedure.

Results of a COVID-19 test are usually available within 2 to 3 days.

A viral test could yield three possible results:

  • If you test positive for COVID-19, your provider will give you advice about what to do next.
  • If you test negative for COVID-19, you probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected. That does not necessarily mean that you won’t get sick if you were to be exposed after your test.
  • A very small number of tests may be inconclusive. This is extremely rare, accounting for only about 1% of tests. If your test is inconclusive, your provider may recommend you get tested again.

An antibody test could yield two results:

  • If you test positive for antibodies, this means you have been previously infected with the novel coronavirus, and you have recovered. This does not necessarily mean you are immune from contracting the virus again.
  • If you test negative for antibodies, this means the lab could not detect antibodies for COVID-19. This means you are still susceptible to the virus.

For more information about protecting yourself and what to do if you get sick, visit osfhealthcare.org.

Last Updated: March 15, 2021

About Author: Laura Nightengale

Laura Nightengale was a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare. 

She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and worked as a reporter at a daily newspaper for five years before joining OSF HealthCare. 

When she’s not working, Laura loves to travel, read, and spend time with her family, including her sweet and ornery dog.

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Categories: COVID-19, General