After Testing

What should I do after my test?

While waiting for your COVID-19 test result, stay home and away from others if:

  • You have symptoms of COVID-19, regardless of your vaccination status; or
  • You live with someone with COVID-19 and you are not fully vaccinated; or
  • You have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 and you are not fully vaccinated; or
  • You were told by a healthcare provider or a public health official to stay home. 

Think about the people you have recently been around so you can prepare to tell them if your test is positive. You can use a helpful VDH tool: Notify Your Contacts to remember everyone you have been around. If your test is positive and the health department calls you, please answer the call. 

Call 9-1-1 or seek emergency medical care right away if you have ANY of the following:  trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest that won’t go away, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or pale, gray or blue-colored skin, lips or nail beds, depending on skin tone.

What do your test results mean?

Viral (Molecular or Antigen) Tests 

A positive viral test means you have COVID-19 and need to stay home and away from others (isolate). Being vaccinated for COVID-19 will not make your COVID-19 viral test positive. If you are vaccinated and have a positive viral test, you need to stay home and away from others (isolate). If you have recently received a positive COVID-19 test result, you can share it anonymously through the COVIDWISE Exposure Notification tool to notify others.

If you test negative on a viral test, you were probably not infected at the time your sample was taken. However, 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. If you are not fully vaccinated and have had close contact with someone known or suspected to have COVID-19, you should be tested right away.  If the first test is negative, you should be retested 5-7 days after your last exposure or immediately if you develop symptoms. Because of your exposure to a person with known or suspected COVID-19, in addition to not being fully vaccinated, it is recommended that you quarantine for 14 days.

Depending on your circumstances, it is also possible that a second viral test might be recommended to confirm the positive or negative result of the first viral test. The healthcare provider can explain this in more detail.

For at-home or self-testing, if your test result is invalid or indicates an error, your test did not work properly. You should refer to the test’s instructions and/or contact the manufacturer for help.

If you are a close contact to someone with COVID-19, test negative for COVID-19, and do not  have symptoms,* VDH and CDC still recommend a full 14-day quarantine period as the safest option if you are not fully vaccinated. If you cannot stay home (quarantine) for the full 14 days after the exposure and do not have symptoms, you may leave home (end quarantine) earlier. Counting the date of last exposure as Day 0, you may leave home after Day 10 without testing, or after Day 7 with a negative molecular or antigen test performed on or after Day 5. If you do not stay home for the full 14 days, you should still monitor for symptoms and follow all other recommendations, (e.g., wear a mask, watch your distance, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas, and wash hands often) for the full 14-day period after the last exposure. 

*It is very important that people who are not required to stay home (quarantine) monitor their health for 14 days after their last exposure and continue following all recommendations (e.g., wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet away from others, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated areas, and wash hands often). See exceptions to masking and physical distancing for fully vaccinated people here

For more information about viral tests: 


Who is not required to stay home (quarantine) or get tested after having close contact with someone with COVID-19? 

  • If you have recovered from COVID-19 in the past 3 months, you do not need to stay home (quarantine) after close contact with someone with COVID-19 as long as you do not develop new symptoms. You should still watch for symptoms for 14 days and continue to wear a mask, watch your distance, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and wash your hands. 
  • If you have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19, you do not have to stay home (quarantine) after close contact with someone with COVID-19 as long as you do not develop symptoms. However, you should get tested 3-5 days after your exposure, even if you don’t have symptoms, and wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following the exposure or until your test result is negative.
  • People who live or work in correctional and detention facilities or homeless shelters should get tested after an exposure even if they are fully vaccinated.  This is because people in these settings may face high turnover of residents, a higher risk of increased spread, and challenges in maintaining recommended physical distancing. Fully vaccinated incarcerated/detained people also do not need to quarantine at intake and after transfer. 
  • People with certain medical conditions or who  take medications that weaken the immune system, should continue to take all precautions recommended for unvaccinated people until advised otherwise by their healthcare provider.

When is it safe to be around others? 

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 and have COVID-19 symptoms, you may be around others after these three things have happened:

  1. At least 10 days have passed since your COVID-19 symptoms first began, AND
  2. You have not had a fever for at least 24 hours WITHOUT the use of fever-reducing medication, AND
  3. Your other symptoms have improved.

If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 based on a positive viral test but never had symptoms, you may be around others when at least 10 days have passed since your first positive test. VDH does not recommend that employers require test results or a healthcare provider’s note to excuse employees from work, qualify for sick leave, or allow return to work. Healthcare providers and medical offices may be very busy and not able to give you this information in a timely manner.

See the VDH When to End Home Isolation and Quarantine Infographic for more information.


Antibody Test Results

If you test positive on an antibody test, you might 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 result, along with other factors of your medical history, such as your symptoms, possible exposures, and places you recently traveled. There is also the chance that this test can give a positive result that is wrong (a false positive result). You could also have a positive antibody test if you have been vaccinated for COVID-19. 

If your antibody test is negative, 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 (a false negative result). A negative result may occur if you were tested early in your illness, and your body did not have enough time to produce antibodies. This means that you might have had COVID-19 even though the test is negative. If this is the case, your healthcare provider will consider the test result together with other parts of your medical history, such as symptoms, possible exposures, and places you recently traveled, to decide how to care for you. It is important that you work with your healthcare provider to help understand the next steps you should take.

It’s important to note that the antibody test result does NOT indicate that you currently are infected, or not infected, with the virus that causes COVID-19.  The result does not confirm whether you are able to spread the virus, or whether you are fully protected against COVID-19. Antibody tests should NOT be used to evaluate a person’s level of immunity or protection from COVID-19 at any time, and especially after the person received a COVID-19 vaccination. An antibody test result should NOT be used to determine if a person needs to be vaccinated against the illness.  

According to CDC, unvaccinated persons who have tested antibody positive within 3 months before or immediately following an exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and who have remained asymptomatic since the current COVID-19 exposure do not need to quarantine, provided there is limited or no contact with persons at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness, including older adults and persons with certain medical conditions.

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


New COVID-19 Variant Viruses

Viruses mutate, or change, all the time and new variants of a virus are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new strains (known as “variant strains” or “variants”) appear and then disappear. Other times, new variants appear and continue over time. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented around the world and in the United States during this pandemic. VDH continues to work with laboratory partners to study new viral variant strains and ensure the new variants are detected with the available tests.  The great majority of  PCR tests will still detect the virus, even if there is a mutation.  So far, there have been no reports of COVID-19 antigen tests missing variant viruses.

For the latest information, see VDH’s Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19 and CDC’s What You Need to Know About Variants and Emerging SARS-CoV-2 Variants. To see where these variants are being identified in Virginia, visit VDH’s Variants of Concern Dashboard. To see how commonly variants are being identified in the U.S. and where these variants are being identified, visit CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.


More information about COVID-19