COVID Testing: Why, When, & Where You Need It

covid-19 test

This is an update of the article originally published on August 12, 2020. Regulations change frequently. That’s why Sharps Compliance monitors updates and communicates any changes to its customers.

Though severity may vary from person to person, most people with confirmed, symptomatic COVID-19 experience a fever and/or cough due to infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. Some people even experience altered smell or taste. However, because not everyone with COVID-19 will have symptoms, the CDC recommends testing for all people in close contact with those who have confirmed COVID-19.

As a fundamental part of the U.S. SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance Plan, COVID-19 testing is done with either antibody tests or viral tests.

COVID-19 Antibody Testing Indicates Past Infection

The antibody tests look for past infection with the virus, regardless of whether you ever had symptoms. Antibody tests are performed by drawing blood and testing for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies. It is important to note that because the scientific community does not yet know whether those antibodies can prevent reinfection, people who develop symptoms any time after a positive antibody test are generally recommended to follow up with a viral test.

Viral Testing Looks for a Current COVID-19 Infection

The two types of viral tests tell you if you have a current COVID-19 infection. The CDC recommends viral tests for the following individuals:

  • Those with signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19
  • Asymptomatic individuals with recent known or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2
  • Asymptomatic individuals without known or suspected exposure to SARS-CoV-2 who work/live in high-risk settings
  • Individuals seeking guidance on whether an infection has resolved so they discontinue transmission-based precautions or home isolation

Viral tests use a swab to sample the inside of your nose, but there are two different methods to test the nose sample.

  • Laboratory testing: This is the most common COVID testing method. The provider sends the sample to a laboratory, which reports the results back to the health care provider. The health care provider then passes them along to the patient.
  • Point-of-Care (POC) testing: This method uses small, portable, user-friendly instruments to deliver rapid results at the same time and place where your test was performed.

As of the writing of this article, there are currently two types of POC tests authorized by the FDA:

  • Molecular POCs are very sensitive and can provide results within 30 minutes but are limited in capacity and often reserved for use in remote crisis settings.
  • Antigen POCs are more commonly available, provide results in just minutes, and give reliable positive results. The CDC recommends a negative result from an antigen POC test be confirmed by another test.

Benefits of POC Testing

POC testing bolsters the public health response to address emerging outbreaks quickly. It can be found in pharmacies, public health testing sites, long-term care facilities, correctional institutions, and rural areas that would otherwise have difficulty accessing diagnostic services.

Many pharmacies and other authorized non-laboratory facilities have developed safety policies and procedures with local and state public health departments to provide COVID-19 testing, including self-collection options, in a manner that prioritizes hygiene precautions and minimizes contamination.

If you get a negative result from the above viral tests, remember that the results only reflect an active infection or recent exposure at the time you gave a sample. The CDC suggests re-testing if you develop symptoms later.

Viral Multiplex Testing Was Recently Approved

COVID-19 shares many similar signs and symptoms with other respiratory illnesses and can even coinfect an individual with these other bugs. However, medical management can differ greatly depending on the cause of your illness:  bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, and the flu with anti-virals.

In an effort to help triage who gets what treatment, the FDA has authorized several viral multiplex tests, also called multi-analyte respiratory panels, to diagnose current infection with one or more combinations of viruses at the same time. One example is the CDC’s Flu SC2 Assay, approved for emergency use by the FDA on July 2nd, 2020, which tests for COVID-19, influenza A, and influenza B with one test. Viral multiplex tests help control the spread and enhance treatment of both influenza and COVID-19 in the community, particularly with the upcoming flu season.

Talk with your healthcare provider about your test result and the type of test you took to understand what your result means. Until experts know more about COVID-19 immunity, you should continue to protect yourself and others regardless of your test result. Visit your state or local health department’s website to look for the latest local information on testing.

 

Kathryn Kane-Neilson
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Author: Kathryn Kane-Neilson

Kathryn earned her Bachelor of Science with a concentration in cellular pathology from the University of Texas and high-complexity testing certification by the ASCP. Kathryn has been published in the journal Cancer Cytopathology and has seven years’ experience in clinical laboratory as well as experience developing comprehensive training on biohazardous waste management in clinical and research settings.