Testing for COVID-19

Contact your doctor if you have symptoms, had an exposure, or have taken part in activities that put you at higher risk for COVID-19 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. 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.
  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, plan to travel, or had an exposure and want to get tested for COVID-19, please contact your healthcare provider. Testing should also be considered if you have taken part in activities that put you at higher risk for COVID-19 because you could not physically distance as needed, such as attending large social or mass gatherings, or being in crowded indoor settings. 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.

Even if you test negative during your quarantine period from an exposure, VDH still recommends that you complete a full 14-day quarantine before going back to work or being around others. Count your date of last exposure as Day 0. If you are not able to stay home for 14 days after your exposure and you do not have symptoms, you may leave home after Day 7 with a negative PCR or antigen test performed on or after Day 5.

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.

FDA recently provided emergency use authorization for the first over-the-counter fully at-home diagnostic antigen test for COVID-19. The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test detects fragments of proteins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from a nasal swab sample. This test can be used in persons 2 years of age or older. Results can be provided in as little as 20 minutes. 

Similar to other antigen tests, a small percentage of false positive and negative results from this test may occur. Therefore, for people without symptoms, positive results should be treated as presumptively positive until confirmed by another test as soon as possible.

Individuals with positive results should isolate and seek additional care from their health care provider. Individuals who test negative and experience COVID-like symptoms should follow up with their health care provider as negative results do not rule out COVID-19. 

The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test uses a mid-turbinate nasal swab (sample is collected further back than the usual nasal swab), but not as far back as nasopharyngeal swabs. 

The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test correctly identified 96% of positive samples and 100% of negative samples in individuals with symptoms. In people without symptoms, the test correctly identified 91% of positive samples and 96% of negative samples.

Information on at home testing is available from the CDC here.

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 to see if you are currently infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. How the sample is collected will depend on the test type and testing location. Methods of collection include a nasal swab, throat swab, or saliva sample. The sample may need to be done by a healthcare provider or could be done by self collection. 

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 December 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)
    • Persons who participated in higher-risk activities in which they cannot physically distance as needed (e.g., travel, attending large social or mass gatherings, or being in crowded indoor settings)
  • 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 a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period 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 asymptomatic close contacts 5 days or more after the date of last exposure. If the close contact is tested too early, the test might not be able to detect COVID-19 infection. Close contacts who do not have symptoms and test negative for COVID-19 should still complete the full 14-day quarantine. VDH and CDC continue to recommend a 14-day quarantine period as the safest option. If the person cannot stay home for the full 14 days after exposure and does not have symptoms, the person may end quarantine earlier. Counting the date of last exposure as Day 0, the person may leave home after Day 10 without testing or after Day 7 with a negative PCR or antigen test performed on or after Day 5. If the person does not stay home for the recommended 14 days, the person should continue monitoring for symptoms and follow all other recommendations (e.g., wear a mask, watch their distance, and wash hands often) for the full 14-day period after the last exposure.

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.​ It is important to note that viral antigen tests are not as accurate as viral molecular tests, and to discuss the implications of this with your healthcare provider.

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.

Having additional access to COVID-19 testing is helpful to residents but VDH does not endorse any one type of testing over others. 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. Testing costs are variable depending on what type of test is ordered (PCR/molecular or antigen test) and the source of provider for such tests. 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.

PCR and rapid antigen tests are both two types of diagnostic tests for COVID-19. PCR tests are considered the “gold standard” for diagnosing COVID-19. PCR tests are highly accurate and usually do not have to be repeated. Rapid antigen tests are usually highly accurate, but false positives can occur. Rapid antigen tests are more likely to miss an active COVID-19 infection compared to molecular tests. Your health care provider may order a PCR test if your antigen test shows a negative result but you have symptoms of COVID-19.

VDH provides a chart comparing different types of coronavirus tests.

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: January 12, 2021