Posted by Allison Grant, March 13, 2020 (last updated on November 20, 2020)
This post has been medically reviewed by Rob Rohatsch, MD, Medical Advisor to Solv Health.
Since the first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) was confirmed in the United States at the end of February, there have been several questions around how people who think they might have coronavirus can get evaluated for possible testing. Testing protocol and distribution of testing resources are constantly are evolving in real time and resources such as the COVID Testing Project are a helpful tool to monitor how many tests are being conducted both nationally and on a state by state basis. State and local health officials are in contact with local healthcare providers providing guidance with targets and to continue to meet demand for tests. We’ll continue to revise this page to keep you up to date as the CDC and state and local health departments revise their recommendations for testing and accessibility.
What is the test for COVID?
There are currently two tests that have been developed to help determine whether or not someone has been infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19). The two tests are divided into molecular tests–which test whether or not a person actively has the coronavirus infection–and serology tests–which determine if a person has antibodies to COVID, which would mean that person had previously been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies (aka the proteins your body develops to help fight off the virus during an infection).
If your healthcare provider determines that you need to be tested, he or she will contact the CDC or your local or state health department to coordinate instructions on testing. Currently, there is a variety of both clinical and commercial laboratories across the country authorized by the FDA that are able to process the diagnostic test for COVID.
A majority of the testing for COVID right now involves the collection of a sample (specimen) from the patient who is believed to be infected and that specimen is then sent out to a lab and then the results are reported back to the patient in two to five days. However, molecular point-of-care testing, sometimes called "rapid response" testing is becoming more readily available for COVID-19 testing, starting with Abbott. This type of testing is able to take place on-site and providers can test for COVID and present the patient with results in 5-15 minutes.
Should I get tested for COVID?
There’s a ton of information and misinformation floating around about coronavirus so it can be easy to be confused or concerned about your risk of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19). The CDC has updated their recommendations for risk and recommend testing if any of the following apply to you:
- You show signs or symptoms consistent with COVID-19
- You are asymptomatic but have had recent known or suspected exposure to COVID
- You are asymptomatic and have not had known or suspected exposure to COVID but qualify for early identification in special settings
- You need to be tested to determine resolution of infection (i.e., test-based strategy for Discontinuation of Transmission-based Precautions, HCP Return to Work, and Discontinuation of Home Isolation)
- You need to be tested for purposes of public health surveillance for COVID
All other U.S. residents are recommended to be alert for symptoms, to practice social distancing, and to follow CDC guidelines if symptoms develop. However, travelers, health care and essential workers and critical infrastructure workers are a special exception to the above and the CDC recommends following guidance that include special consideration for these groups. If any of the above apply to you and if you are showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include: fever, cough, shortness of breath then your best bet is to follow the CDC’s recommended steps for if you’re sick and how to get evaluated for testing. The CDC has also built a "coronavirus self-checker" named Clara to help consumers determine if they need to seek medical care or what the appropriate measures are, however it does not diagnose.
The CDC also recommends several steps you can take to prevent the spread of coronavirus, these include:
- Staying home, except to get medical care
- Separating yourself from other people and animals in your home
- Calling ahead before visiting your doctor
- Wearing a face mask if you are sick
- Covering your coughs and sneezes
- Cleaning your hands often
- Avoiding sharing personal household items
- Cleaning all “high touch” surfaces daily
- Monitoring your symptoms
- Avoid all non-essential travel
- Avoid crowds as much as possible
Where and how can I get evaluated for COVID testing?
Availability of tests for COVID and number of testing sites can vary on a state by state basis. Solv has worked with urgent care centers across the country to show their testing availability directly on Solv. These features let users find and book a testing evaluation as well as understand what prerequisites that specific urgent care center might have before you are able to get tested, such as a telemed visit or screening phone call.
The CDC and the FDA are working to ensure that there’s greater availability of COVID testing available in the US. There are currently labs across all 50 states that have been successfully verified and are using COVID diagnostics tests. Initiatives like drive-through testing centers, are being launched across the country in partnership with private industry and with the goal of getting as many people as possible tested while limiting direct exposure to coronavirus for the healthcare workers on the ground.
To learn how your state department of public health is responding to COVID, please refer to your state’s health department website:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
What about antibody testing?
In addition to getting tested to see if you currently have COVID, many individuals who suspect they may have already had coronavirus are likely curious about antibody testing. Antibody testing can be valuable for many reasons, considering that many people who have COVID have mild to no symptoms, it can help evaluate the full spread of the coronavirus across a population and can also be a useful tool and we begin to consider what life in a "post-coronavirus" and will likely be needed to lift social-distancing measures put in place around the globe. Many urgent care centers are offering antibody testing in addition to COVID testing. You can find an urgent care near you that offers antibody testing here.
Can I get evaluated for COVID testing at urgent care?
Yes. Many urgent cares across the country offer COVID testing. Testing availability and capacity has increased significantly over the past several months and Solv can help you find an urgent care near you that offers COVID or antibody testing. Solv also lists out any prerequisites–such as a telemed visit, phone screening or in-person screening–to testing at the specific urgent care location so you can be prepared for what you will need to do before you're able to get a COVID test.
Are there any alternatives to going in-person to the doctor to be evaluated for testing?
If you’re concerned about going in-person to see your provider due to possible transmission risks, the CDC has made recommendations for providers to consider telemedicine options as an alternative to in-person visits. Experts have also highlighted telemedicine as one of the best options for treating patients during the COVID outbreak and more than 50 health systems across the U.S. have already implemented telemedicine as an option. Telemedicine can be a great first step if you are showing symptoms of COVID as it enables you to be evaluated by a provider while also helping to lower your risk of transmission to others.
The government is also investing in making telemedicine more accessible to the general public to help counteract the spread of coronavirus. As part of the $8.3 billion emergency funding bill passed by Congress to support efforts to combat the coronavirus, restrictions on telemedicine were loosened restrictions to enable providers to use telemedicine on its use to treat people covered under Medicare.
Major insurers are also taking the steps to make telemedicine more accessible and affordable. On March 10, 2020 in a meeting at the White House, private health insurers said they would pay for the virtual visits for people who may have coronavirus to improve access to care for their customers.
As testing options expand there are several companies working to enable consumers to be tested from home. Several other companies have announced plans to bring at home tests to market over the coming weeks and months. On May 16, 2020, Everlywell was granted FDA approval for an at-home COVID testing kit, though consumers will need to complete and online screening to determine if they meet the criteria to receive the test at home.
Several companies have also been rushing to make at-home testing for COVID a reality. On April 21, 2020, the FDA approved the first at-home test for COVID from LabCorp.
What does it cost to get tested for COVID?
On March 18, 2020 President Trump signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act into legislation which, among other provisions, has made coronavirus testing free to all Americans. In addition, on April 22, 2020, the House and Senate passed an additional $484 coronavirus relief package which will provide additional funding for testing.
However, in addition to the cost of testing, individuals who are infected with coronavirus will also have costs associated with the treatment. These costs may vary depending on the severity of the infection and the treatments needed. However, several health insurers are also being proactive in addressing these costs up front. America’s Health Insurance Plans has outlined how various health insurance providers across the US are working to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by lowering the barriers to access testing from everything to waiving copays for diagnostic testing to completely covering any out of pocket costs for coronavirus testing. To view what your specific health insurance provider is doing check out the full list here.
In addition, on March 10, 2020 at a meeting at the White House, major insurers including companies such as UnitedHealth, Anthem, and Humana, along with the leaders of industry trade groups like the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association agreed that coronavirus tests would be covered at no cost to patients, and to cover telemedicine related to the outbreak. The companies pledged no surprise billing in connection with coronavirus.