How (And When) to Get Tested for COVID-19

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDJuly 30th, 2020
COVID test

As testing for COVID-19—the disease caused by the novel coronavirus—ramps up throughout the country, you may be wondering how to get tested. COVID-19 testing guidelines and limitations will vary depending on where you live, so be sure to follow advice from your state or local health department. You can also contact your primary health care provider if you have any questions regarding COVID-19 and how you can receive testing. No matter where you call home, though, you should never simply stroll into a physician’s office or medical clinic if you are displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Most healthcare providers have a pre-visit screening process that may involve a telemedicine visit, which is conducted via a smartphone or computer, or testing that is strategically performed in a parking lot or quarantined area. Before visiting a medical facility for testing or treatment, make sure to call ahead and ask about what steps you may need to take.

What Does COVID-19 Testing Involve?

COVID-19 is caused by a virus called SARS-CoV-2. As such, a viral test is performed to screen for this specific virus in nasopharyngeal or throat secretions. During most COVID-19 tests, a thin, 6-inch long cotton swab is gently inserted into the nostril to collect mucus from the nasopharyngeal cavity, which is located between the nose and mouth. The swab remains in each nostril for about 10 to 15 seconds to ensure enough mucus is collected for testing. Less commonly, a throat swab may be performed.

Types of COVID-19 Tests

There are several different methods in which a saliva or nasopharyngeal sample may be screened for SARS-CoV-2. Many health care providers rely on molecular testing, which evaluates the sample for the virus’s genetic material. This method is viewed as highly reliable, and results are often available within one day to one week. A newer method of screening, antigen testing detects fragments of proteins related to the virus. This type of COVID-19 test is often referred to as “rapid testing” and produces results in about an hour or less, although molecular testing is widely considered to be more accurate. Testing options for COVID-19 will vary based on your location, the health care provider you choose, and availability on any given day. Some patients can choose what type of testing they’d like to receive, but this isn’t always the case.

Who Should Be Tested for COVID-19?

Ideally, everyone with symptoms or possible COVID-19 exposure should be tested, but the answer to this question will depend on COVID-19 testing availability in your area. Access to testing is becoming more readily available as diagnostic capabilities and coronavirus resources expand. Still, some state and local governments may require a physician’s referral to be tested, or they may focus testing efforts on individuals who are recognized as high priority by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These prioritized groups include:

  • Hospitalized patients who have COVID-19 symptoms
  • Individuals who work in health care facilities and group residences, such as rehabilitation centers and nursing homes
  • First responders who have COVID-19 symptoms, including firefighters, police officers, and emergency medicine technicians
  • Residents of long-term care facilities such as shelters and prisons

If you’re unsure about whether or not you should be tested, call your health care provider.

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What About COVID-19 Antibody Testing?

The COVID-19 crisis is a rapidly evolving situation, and researchers and physicians are learning more about this new disease every day. One reality that is becoming more clear is how many people have COVID-19 without any noticeable symptoms. That’s where COVID-19 antibody testing comes into play. While traditional testing screens for an active infection, antibody testing is performed to identify antibodies that were produced by a past infection that may not have caused clear symptoms. COVID-19 antibody testing involves screening a small blood sample for coronavirus antibodies, which are proteins that are produced by the immune system in response to a coronavirus infection. It usually takes about 14 days for antibodies to develop after becoming sick. If you believe you may have had COVID-19 in the past or were previously exposed to an COVID-19-positive individual (at least two weeks ago), consider speaking with your healthcare provider about antibody testing.

COVID-19 Testing From DispatchHealth

DispatchHealth is a well-established provider of on-demand, in-home medical care, and we’ve expanded our urgent care services to better meet the needs of our patients during this challenging and unique time. Our fully-equipped medical teams now offer testing for COVID-19 in the safety and convenience of our patients’ homes, as well as on-call treatment for COVID-19 symptoms and other health concerns. Tests are administered when our providers deem appropriate. Antibody testing, however, is not available through DispatchHealth. Arranging in-home COVID-19 testing or medical care from DisptachHealth is simple; just request care over the phone, on our app, or online, and our professionals will promptly arrive at your doorstep within a few hours. We take every measure to ensure the safety of our patients and medical staff, which is why our professionals wear full protective gear and use thoroughly sanitized equipment. And, we accept most health insurances and offer affordable rates for uninsured patients—in fact, our costs are comparable to that of an urgent care clinic.


Contact DisptachHealth today to learn more about our approach to in-home COVID-19 testing and treatment. Our team will be happy to answer any questions you may have.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

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The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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