Testing for COVID-19

This article was last reviewed on September 17, 2021.


Testing plays an important part in our battle against the COVID-19 coronavirus. Here is more information about the testing available in the US and how to get tested. Please note, Babylon does not offer private COVID-19 tests.

Testing for current infection

There are two types of viral tests used currently: nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) and antigen tests. These viral tests involve swabbing the inside of your nose or your mouth to check for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These tests are available from a healthcare provider or for at home testing. Check your local health department website for the latest information on testing.

You should get tested if

  • You have symptoms of COVID-19
  • You have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 min or more over a 24 hour period) with someone with COVID-19
    • If you are fully vaccinated and have been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, you should be tested within 3-5 days after your exposure
  • You have recently been involved in an activity that would put you at higher risk such as travel, attending a mass gathering or being in a crowded indoor setting
  • You have been asked by a healthcare provider, school, workplace or health department to get tested

Testing for past infection

An antibody test may tell you if you had an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19 in the past. This test should not be used to diagnose a current infection. Check with your local health department or healthcare provider about how to get tested.

If you have a positive antibody test

  • It could mean that you have antibodies from the virus that causes COVID-19
  • It could mean that it may be positive because you have antibodies from a different coronavirus

Even if you do have antibodies to the virus, we do not have enough information at this time about how much protection you may have from getting infected again or how long that protection may last, so you should continue to follow precautions to protect yourself and others.

Talk with your healthcare provider about your specific results and what they mean.

If you have a negative antibody test

  • It could mean you have never had COVID-19
  • It could mean that you are infected currently or have been recently infected (it usually takes 1-3 weeks after infection for your body to develop antibodies although some people may take longer)
  • Some people may never develop antibodies after an infection

Talk with your healthcare provider about your specific results and what they mean.

Contact tracing

Contact tracing is important to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and help protect you and those around you.

If you have had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19

  • You may be contacted by the health department
  • You should self-quarantine - stay home and stay away from others, especially those at higher risk, for 14 days after your last contact with the infected person and monitor your health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19
  • If you are fully vaccinated and have been exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19
    • you should be tested within 3-5 days after your exposure
    • you do not need to quarantine if you wear a mask in public indoor settings for 14 days after exposure or if your COVID-19 test result within 3-5 days is negative
    • if your test result is positive, you should isolate
    • if you live with someone who is at high risk, immunocompromised or unvaccinated, you should consider masking at home for 14 days or until your test result is negative
  • If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, stay home, stay away from others and inform the health department (symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure)
  • If your symptoms are severe or worsening, seek emergency medical care

What happens after testing

If you are waiting for your COVID-19 test results

  • Stay home and stay away from others if you think you may have COVID-19
  • If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it is best to self-quarantine for 14 days
  • Watch for symptoms and contact your healthcare professional for advice if needed
  • Think about where you have been and people you have been around so you can help with contact tracing if contacted by your local health department

If you test positive, with or without symptoms

  • You may be contacted by your local health department to check on your symptoms and to find out who you have been around so they can begin contact tracing
  • You should self-isolate and monitor your symptoms
  • You can end self-isolation after
    • 10 days since your symptoms first started AND
    • You have not had a fever for 24 hours without using any fever reducing medication AND
    • Your symptoms are improving
  • Seek emergency medical care if your symptoms are severe or worsening
  • Tell your close contacts they may have been exposed to COVID-19

If you test negative and have no symptoms

  • Continue to stay away from others (self-quarantine) for 14 days since your last exposure to someone with COVID-19
  • Follow all instructions from the health department

If you test negative and have symptoms

  • Continue to stay away from others (self-quarantine) for 14 days since your last exposure to someone with COVID-19
  • Follow all instructions from the health department
  • If your symptoms do not improve, contact your healthcare provider - you may need additional testing or an evaluation
  • Seek emergency medical care if your symptoms are severe or worsening

References:

  1. CDC COVID-19 Symptoms and testing
  2. CDC COVID-19 Antibody tests
  3. CDC COVID-19 End home isolation