Testing for COVID-19

Contact your doctor if you have symptoms and want to be tested for COVID-19. 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.

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.

Testing capacity at commercial, private, and hospital laboratories performing SARS-CoV-2 testing continues to increase in Virginia.

There are two different types of tests available: viral tests (diagnostic) and antibody tests.

  1. A viral (diagnostic) test tells you if you have a current infection.
  2. An antibody test might tell you if you had a past infection. An antibody test might not show if you have a current infection because it can take 1–3 weeks after infection for your body to make antibodies. Having antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 might provide protection from getting infected with the virus again. If it does, we do not know how much protection the antibodies might provide or how long this protection might last.

For more information about differences between the different types of tests, please visit VDH’s Testing Webpage.

If you have symptoms and want to get tested for COVID-19, please contact your healthcare provider. Your provider may collect samples to test you or help you to find sampling sites in your area. For additional information on testing sites in your area, visit VDH COVID-19 Testing Sites.

If you have been exposed to COVID-19 and would like to get tested, you should also contact your healthcare provider. If you test negative during your quarantine period, you will still need to complete your full 14-day quarantine before it is safe to go back to work or be around others.

Results from point-of-care tests may be available at the testing site in less than an hour. Other viral tests must be sent to a laboratory for analysis, a process that can take a few days. Some jurisdictions are experiencing a high demand for testing, which may cause a delay in processing tests and providing results.

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 system helps 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.

Viral tests check samples from your respiratory system, such as a swab from the inside of your nose, to see if you are currently infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Antibody tests check your blood for antibodies, which may show if you had a previous infection.  An antibody test may not be able to show if you have a current infection, because it can take 1-3 weeks after infection to make antibodies. Antibody tests have limited ability to diagnose COVID-19 and should not be used alone to diagnose COVID-19.

At this time, most local health departments are not doing testing for COVID-19. Your healthcare provider will determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19 and might consult with your local health department if needed. If you do not have a healthcare provider, your local health department may be able to help connect you with a healthcare provider or free clinic in your area. Your healthcare provider does NOT need VDH approval for testing through a private lab.

If testing in the private sector is not available, clinicians may request testing for patients at DCLS by contacting the local health department.

Testing is available through Virginia’s state public health lab, the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services (DCLS), for people who meet the high priority and priority testing criteria, found here (updated September 14, 2020).

VDH Recommendations for prioritizing SARS-CoV-2 testing

Private/Commercial Lab Testing

Public Health Lab Testing

High Priority

  • Hospitalized patients with COVID-19 symptoms* or close contact†
  • Critical infrastructure workers (e.g., healthcare workers, first responders, teachers)§ with COVID-19 symptoms* or close contact†
  • Un- or underinsured persons with COVID-19 symptoms*or close contact†
  • Other vulnerable populations¶ with COVID-19 symptoms*or close contact†
  • Residents and workers with COVID-19 symptoms* or close contact† in, or newly arriving to, congregate settings (e.g., long-term care facilities, prisons, jails, behavioral health facilities, or intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities)
  • Outbreak investigations**
  • Public health surveillance testing (e.g., sentinel surveillance)
  • Community testing events organized by the local health department††
  • Un- or under-insured persons with COVID-19 symptoms*
  • Other vulnerable populations¶ with COVID-19 symptoms*

Priority

  • Persons with COVID-19 symptoms*
  • Persons without symptoms
    • Close contacts of cases†
    • Prioritized by clinicians based on their best clinical judgment (e.g., for medical procedures)
  • Point prevalence surveys as approved by the local health department§§
  • Other special situations approved by the local health department

* Description of symptoms associated with COVID-19.

† A close contact is any person who was within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes or who had exposure to respiratory secretions from an infected person (e.g., being coughed or sneezed on, sharing a drinking glass or utensils; kissing), starting from 2 days before the person became sick (or 2 days before specimen collection if asymptomatic) until the person was isolated. If testing is not readily available, prioritize testing of symptomatic close contacts or those at increased risk for severe COVID-19. If there is a known exposure date, it is reasonable to test close contacts approximately one week after exposure based on the average incubation period and available evidence to date. Close contacts who do not have symptoms and test negative for COVID-19 should still 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 the close contact is tested too early within the 14-day period, the test might not be able to detect COVID-19 infection.

§ Critical infrastructure workers are defined by the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in their Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce: Ensuring Community and National Resilience in COVID-19 Response. Of note, workers in the education sector or those who support the education sector were recently added as critical infrastructure workers.

¶ Vulnerable populations include low-income individuals and families; people of color (i.e. Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino); individuals defined by CDC as having increased risk of severe COVID-19 because of older age or medical condition (e.g., hypertension, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD]) or requiring extra precautions (e.g., individuals living in rural communities, people experiencing homelessness, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people with developmental and behavioral disorders); individuals living in multi-generational households; individuals who are uninsured or underinsured; and individuals living with disabilities, access, or functional needs.

** Testing for outbreak investigations means confirming the presence of an outbreak (i.e., two or more laboratory-confirmed cases within a 14-day period). Typically, this involves testing specimens from 2–5 persons. If an outbreak is confirmed, VDH might recommend additional testing at a private/commercial or a public health laboratory, depending on the affected setting.

†† Community testing events are often designed to reach vulnerable populations.

§§ A point prevalence survey (PPS) involves testing all people in a facility at a specific point in time, regardless of symptoms. There are different types of PPS. A baseline PPS can be performed, regardless of whether sporadic COVID-19 infections have been previously identified. A PPS can also be performed after an outbreak has been confirmed as part of the overall outbreak response. Examples of when public health is likely to recommend testing at a private/commercial laboratory include facility-wide testing in child care facilities, K-12 schools, institutes of higher education, and workplaces. For additional information on how public health prioritizes PPS, see here. For assistance with point prevalence surveys, please contact your local health department.

If you test positive for COVID-19 by a viral test, you should isolate and follow your healthcare providers guidance on steps to take if you are sick. If you are a healthcare or critical infrastructure worker, notify your work of your test result.  Please see this link for additional information on what to do if you are sick: What to Do If You Are Sick

­­If you test negative for COVID-19 by a viral test, you probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected. However, that does not mean you will not get sick. The test result only means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time of testing. You might test negative if the sample was collected early in your infection and test positive later during your illness. You could also be exposed to COVID-19 after the test and get infected then.​

Except in instances in which viral testing is delayed, antibody tests should not be used to    diagnose a current COVID-19 infection. An antibody test may not show if you have a current COVID-19 infection because it can take 1–3 weeks after infection for your body to make antibodies.

A positive test result shows you may have antibodies from an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there is a chance a positive result means that you have antibodies from an infection with a virus from the same family of viruses (called coronaviruses), such as the one that causes the common cold.  Having antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 may provide protection from getting infected with the virus again. If it does, we do not know how much protection the antibodies may provide or how long this protection may last. Talk with your healthcare provider about your test result and the type of test you took to understand what your result means. Your provider may suggest you take a second type of antibody test to see if the first test was accurate. You should continue to protect yourself and others since you could get infected with the virus again. If you work in a job where you wear personal protective equipment (PPE), continue wearing PPE. You may test positive for antibodies even if you have never had symptoms of COVID-19. This can happen if you had an infection without symptoms, which is called an asymptomatic infection.

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

You can find more information about serology tests on VDH’s COVID-19 Testing Site.

If you test negative for antibodies (blood test), that means you may not have ever had COVID-19. Talk with your healthcare provider about your test result and the type of test you took to understand what your result means. You could still have a current infection.The test may be negative because it typically takes 1–3 weeks after infection for your body to make antibodies. It’s possible you could still get sick if you have been exposed to the virus recently. This means you could still spread the virus. Some people may take even longer to develop antibodies, and some people who are infected may not ever develop antibodies.

If you get symptoms after the antibody test, you might need another test called a viral test​.

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

You can find more information about serology tests on VDH’s COVID-19 Testing Site.

Healthcare workers or frontline responders who are ill with symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath, chills, muscle pain, sore throat, new loss of taste/smell), or are well and want to discuss testing, should contact their healthcare provider. Some employers may provide testing through their occupational health program.

Some local areas are offering drive-through testing for people with symptoms of COVID-19. You can find more information about testing sites in Virginia at this website. Each facility has different policies and procedures for testing; please reach out to the individual facility for information about testing availability and procedures.

While there have been news articles about in-home COVID-19 test kits, the Virginia Department of Health is not currently promoting in-home testing. Please contact your healthcare provider if you are sick.

Certain counties do send someone out to test you at your home, however the majority do not. Please contact your healthcare provider to determine if testing is needed. If the healthcare provider determines that testing is indicated, they might either collect samples to test you or provide you with information about where you can go locally for testing.

Your healthcare provider will determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19 and might consult with your local health department if needed. If your healthcare provider has determined that you do not need to be tested for COVID-19, you should follow your healthcare provider’s guidance regarding any necessary treatment or self-care.

Yes, this is possible. If you test negative for COVID-19, you probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected. However, that does not mean you will not get sick. It is possible that you were very early in your infection when your sample was collected and that you could test positive later. Or you could be exposed later and then develop illness. In other words, a negative test result does not mean you won’t get sick later. This means you could still spread the virus.

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 covers testing costs 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.

Most 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 covers testing costs without a co-pay.  You will also find information about insurance and coronavirus costs here.

Uninsured or underinsured people in Virginia can obtain testing from the state public health lab or a commercial laboratory if they meet the testing criteria. People without insurance are encouraged to contact a free clinic, federally qualified health center (FQHC), or urgent care center to have the specimen collected. Visit https://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.

You will get your test results from the healthcare professional or facility that collected your specimens. Ask your healthcare provider, when they collect your specimen, what the best way to get your results is. Most clinics and health care professionals are providing results by telephone.

While VDH does receive COVID-19 test results from private labs, including both positive and negative results, the best way to know how you will get your results is to talk with your healthcare provider.

Rapid, point-of-care diagnostic tests use a mucus sample from the nose or throat but can be analyzed at the doctor’s office or clinic where the sample is collected and results may  be available in minutes. These may be molecular or antigen tests.

On March 21, 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a rapid molecular test. Since that time, at least one other rapid test for COVID-19 has been approved by FDA under an EUA. See the FDA’s webpage on Emergency Use Authorizations here for more information.  Virginia is aiming to rapidly expand testing for COVID-19. Testing capacity at commercial and private laboratories performing SARS-CoV-2 testing continues to increase. Hospital laboratories are also performing SARS-CoV-2 testing.

Check out the following websites:

CDC COVID-19 Testing Website

CDC COVID-19 FAQs

VDH COVID-19 Website

VDH COVID-19 Testing

VDH COVID-19 Testing Sites (Information on One-Day Testing Events is located in the table below the map)

 

Page last reviewed: October 14, 2020