COVID-19 Testing

SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes coronavirus disease (COVID-19). At this time, there are two main types of tests for SARS-CoV-2: diagnostic tests and serology (antibody) tests.

The first type is a diagnostic test. This type of test tells you if you have a current infection by looking for parts of the virus itself. Swabs that take samples from the back of the nose, mouth, or lower respiratory tract are used for these tests. FDA-authorized diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2 are accurate for finding a current infection. This means a positive or negative result from a test is likely to give you a true test result.

The second type of test is a serology (or antibody) test. These tests tell you if you had a previous 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 long the antibodies stay in the body after the infection is over. Serology 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, decisions about the need of available protective equipment (PPE), or the need to discontinue social distancing.

If you have symptoms and want to be tested for COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider. Your provider might collect samples to test you or or help you find sampling sites in your area. Learn more about what to do if you feel sick.

How to get tested?

Testing may be available at your doctor’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 doctor if you have symptoms and want to be tested for COVID-19. Get medical attention right away if you have any health emergency.

To find testing sites in your area, visit the website Virginia COVID-19 Testing Sites. This site is updated frequently. Each 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 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 cover testing cost without a co-pay. You will also find information about insurance and coronavirus costs here. Some testing sites might have additional fees that aren’t covered by insurance so it is 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 you are tested?

Diagnostic Test

If you test positive for COVID-19 on a diagnostic test (nose, mouth, 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 diagnostic test (nose, mouth, 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.

Serology (Antibody) Test

If you test positive for antibodies (blood test), next steps will depend on the type of antibody detected. Depending on the result and your symptoms, it may be more likely that you have COVID-19 and that you may need to have an additional, diagnostic test and to isolate yourself to avoid spreading the virus to others. Other results may indicate you were infected previously. 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, 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 for antibodies (blood test), that means antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 were not found in your sample. However, it is possible for this test to give a negative result that is incorrect (false negative) in some people with COVID-19. 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.

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

Page last reviewed: May 14, 2020