COVID-19 Testing

Who should get tested for COVID-19 

If you have symptoms, use Virginia’s COVIDCHECK to help make decisions on when to seek testing and appropriate medical care. Seek emergency medical care immediately if you are having trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face.

How to get tested

Types of Tests for COVID-19

There are two main types of tests for COVID-19: viral tests (e.g., RT-PCR or antigen) and antibody tests.

A viral test tells you if you have a current infection by looking for parts of the virus itself. Saliva (spit) or swabs that take samples from the back of the nose, mouth, or throat are used for these tests. There are currently two types of viral tests that detect the virus that causes COVID-19: molecular tests (e.g., RT-PCR tests) that look for the virus’s genetic material and antigen tests that look for a specific protein on the surface of the virus. Antigen tests can be easy to run and affordable but are not always as accurate as molecular tests. 

An antibody test tells you if you had a past infection by looking for antibodies in the blood. Antibodies are proteins made by the immune system when a germ enters a person’s body. Our immune systems help us fight off germs and diseases. The test uses a blood sample to look for antibodies made in response to SARS-CoV-2 rather than looking for the virus itself. It usually takes 1-3 weeks for the body to make antibodies in response to an infection. We do not know how much protection the antibodies might provide or how long this protection might last. 

Antibody tests have limited ability to diagnose COVID-19 and should not be used alone to diagnose COVID-19. Results from these tests should also not be used to make decisions about staffing or the ability of an employee to return to work, the need for available personal protective equipment (PPE), or the need to discontinue preventive measures, like social distancing. 

Find more answers to your testing questions at VDH FAQs on Testing.

How to get tested?

Testing may be available at your healthcare provider’s office, urgent care center, pharmacy, or other healthcare clinic. Some testing sites in Virginia are offering community testing events, such as drive-thru testing. Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to COVID-19 and want to be tested. 

To find testing sites in your area, visit the website Virginia COVID-19 Testing Sites. This website is updated frequently. Each testing site has different policies and procedures for testing and billing. Please reach out to the individual site for information about testing availability.

How much does testing cost?

As of March 18, many insurance plans cover the cost of testing and other related health care costs. For specific information about your health insurance coverage, call your insurance company. You can usually find their phone number on your insurance card. Most insurance companies cover testing cost without a co-pay. You will also find information about insurance and COVID-19 testing costs here. Some testing sites might have additional fees that aren’t covered by insurance, so it is a good practice to ask about all costs before getting tested.

Uninsured or under-insured people in Virginia with COVID-19 symptoms can get tested through the state public health lab for free. Please contact a free clinic, federally qualified health center (FQHC), or emergency department to have the specimen collected, or visit www.coverVA.org to see if you qualify for Medicaid. Your local health department might also be able to connect you with free clinics or FQHCs in your area.

What to do after while you are waiting for your test result?

While waiting for your COVID-19 test results, stay home away from others and monitor your health to help protect your friends, family, and others from possibly getting COVID-19 from you. Think about the people you have recently been around so you can prepare to speak with health department staff if your test is positive. You can use a helpful VDH tool: Notify Your Contacts to remember everyone you have been around. If the health department calls you, answer the call. 

What do your test results mean?

Viral Test

If you test positive for COVID-19 on a viral test (nose, mouth, saliva, or throat test), stay home and keep yourself away from others. Learn more about steps you can take to protect other people in your home and community if you are sick with COVID-19.

If you test negative for COVID-19 on a viral test (nose, mouth, saliva, or throat test), you were probably not infected at the time your sample was taken. 

It is possible you were very early in your infection when you were tested and you could test positive later, or you could get COVID-19 later and then get sick. Community spread of COVID-19 is occurring across Virginia. Learn more about steps you can take to keep yourself and others from getting COVID-19 by reading VDH’s Prevention Tips.

If you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 and you test negative on a viral test, you must continue to monitor for symptoms and complete the full 14-day quarantine before it is safe to be around others. This is because it can take up to 14 days for COVID-19 symptoms to develop; if you are tested too early within the 14-day period, the test might not be able to detect COVID-19 infection. See the VDH When to End Home Isolation and Quarantine Infographic for more information.

Watch this CDC video to learn more about Viral Tests for COVID-19.

Antibody Test

If you test positive on an antibody test, you may have been infected in the past with the virus that causes COVID-19. Your healthcare provider will work with you to determine how best to care for you based on the test results, along with other factors of your medical history, such as your symptoms, possible exposures, and places where you have recently traveled. There is also the chance that this test can give a positive result that is wrong (a false positive result).

If you test negative on an antibody test, that means antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 were not found in your blood. However, it is possible for this test to give a negative result that is wrong (false negative). A negative result may occur if you were tested early in your illness, and your body hasn’t had enough time to produce antibodies. This means that you could possibly still have COVID-19 even though the test is negative. If this is the case, your healthcare provider will consider the test result together with all other parts of your medical history, such as symptoms, possible exposures, and places where you have recently traveled, in deciding how to care for you. It is important that you work with your healthcare provider to help understand the next steps you should take.

Regardless of whether you test positive or negative on an antibody test, the results do not confirm whether you are able to spread the virus that causes COVID-19. Until we know more, continue to take steps to protect yourself and others.

Watch this CDC video to learn more about Antibody Tests for COVID-19.

Page Last Reviewed: October 22, 2020