A Physician’s Point of View: When should I get a COVID-19 test?
As we prepare for the holidays and gather with family, friends, and co-workers, it’s important to prepare and continue to be diligent in our practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including vaccination, social distancing, mask wearing and, yes, testing.
What test do I chose?
If you are concerned about an active COVID-19 infection, it’s key that you take a test that looks for the virus — for example, a rapid antigen test (RAT) or a PCR test.
Rapid antigen tests take only 15 minutes. Texas MedClinic has been offering these tests since May of 2020.
However, there are at-home RAT tests that you can self-administer. They’re inexpensive — currently about $10-15 per test. These tests look for proteins made by the coronavirus.
To catch potential infections early, experts say it’s worth stocking up and keeping some rapid tests on hand. That way the test is ready and available as soon as you need it, and you don’t have to go to a store or clinic to get a result.
RAT tests aren’t as accurate as tests that amplify genetic material from the virus, like PCR tests. These genetic tests are very accurate and can detect low levels of the virus, but they can be expensive, and they must be processed at laboratories, so it can take days to get results. They’re useful for confirming Covid-19 cases or catching infections in very early stages when the virus is still at low levels.
When do I get tested?
One of the most critical times to get tested is when you start exhibiting symptoms: fever, chills, a runny nose, a loss of taste or smell. That’s true regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.
If you don’t have symptoms, but have been exposed to someone who has received a positive COVID-19 test, vaccinated people should get tested five to seven days after an exposure, while unvaccinated people should get tested right away and follow up with another test five to seven days later.
Do I need to quarantine if I have been exposed?
Vaccinated people do not need to quarantine after an exposure, provided that they don’t show any symptoms. People who have had COVID-19 in the past three months also do not need to get tested if they were exposed, according to the CDC.
Unvaccinated people DO need to quarantine for 14 days after an exposure to watch for symptoms. A quarantine may be shortened to 10 days without a negative test or 7 days with a negative test, depending on your respective local health authority recommendations.
If you test negative, whether with an at-home test or at a clinic or facility, but still have symptoms of Covid-19, your initial test could have been a false negative. The CDC recommends continuing to isolate from others and contacting a health care provider to monitor symptoms, and to conduct another test.
What do I do if my Covid-19 test is positive?
If your rapid at-home test is positive, the individual should isolate, follow up with a more robust genetic test like PCR, and consult a health care professional if they need medical attention. The earlier you catch an infection, the better: A doctor can recommend a COVID-19 treatment called monoclonal antibodies if the virus is detected quickly.
Those receiving a positive result from a rapid test provided at a facility or clinic will be guided through the process of how to isolate. Depending on the case, a doctor or provider may seek a PCR test to confirm infection. Doctors or providers can also recommend monoclonal antibodies.