The 411 on COVID-19 Testing

As COVID-19 continues to spread, global headlines of surging infection rates dominate the media. Many suggest this is due to the increased number of COVID-19 tests being processed, while others emphasize it is the continued community spread. Either way, it’s certain that the pandemic is far from over.

As we move forward and continue to practice physical distancing measures, you may be wondering if you should get tested. Below is information to help you decide if a test is right for you.

COVID-19 Testing – What to Know

What types of tests are available for COVID-19?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, there are two types of tests for COVID-19: viral (or diagnostic) tests and antibody (or serology) tests.

  • Viral tests are used to determine whether an active infection is present, with the key word being active. These tests involve a long swab being inserted through the nostrils to collect material from the back of the throat and are not to be used as a test for past possible infections.
  • Antibody tests are performed through a finger stick or blood draw and check for antibodies created by the immune system in defense to an infection. Antibodies can be slow to develop, sometimes taking up to several weeks after an infection to appear, which is why this test should not be conducted to determine a current coronavirus infection.

Who should get a viral test?

While you should talk with your doctor first, the CDC recommends viral testing priority be given to those who currently have COVID-19 symptoms and meet one of the following criteria:

  • Are a current patient in the hospital
  • Work in a health care facility
  • Are a first responder
  • Work, visit or live in large community settings, such as nursing facilities, production plants or prisons

The next priority level includes those with symptoms who are at risk for severe disease or are pregnant, followed by those who may not be experiencing symptoms but are recommended for testing by a health care provider.

If you test positive, follow these guidelines to protect yourself and others. If your test is negative, this may mean you weren’t infected at the time of your test but does not mean that you won’t get sick later. Consult your physician for further details.

Who should get an antibody test?

If, at some point, you experienced coronavirus symptoms and made a full recovery, a test involving a blood sample can be done to check for antibodies related to the COVID-19 infection. Keep in mind that timing on when this test takes place is critical, as antibodies may not be able to be detected if an infection is still present, which can cause the test to come back negative. However, if your test is positive and does detect antibodies, this may mean you were infected with COVID-19 at some point in the past but does not confirm immunity against future infection.

A potential benefit to antibody testing that is being reviewed is the donation of convalescent plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to those currently battling the virus. Clinical trials are currently underway to monitor the effectiveness of antibodies from recovered patients to help current coronavirus patients fight the infection. However, this is still being tested and is not yet determined as a viable course of treatment.

COVID-19 Testing – What to Take Away

As more people continue to get tested, earlier care can be provided for those who test positive, which will help aid efforts to slow the spread. The best way to continue to protect yourself and others amid this persistent pandemic is to remain faithful in your practice of the CDC’s physical distancing measures.