COVID-19 Testing | NIH COVID-19 Research

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COVID-19 Testing Basics

How do I get tested?

Most health care providers offer COVID-19 testing and should be contacted first if you are experiencing symptoms. Your state health department’s website will have information on additional local testing sites.

You can also schedule an appointment for a COVID-19 diagnostic test at many national pharmacy chains. Stores with drive-through lanes will ask you to remain in your car while a pharmacist guides you through the self-testing processes. Results are usually available in a few days.

How can I get an at-home test?

At-home rapid tests can be purchased over the counter at many pharmacies, with results ready in as little as 15 minutes. The CDC has more information about self-testing, including how to swab yourself.

Residential households in the U.S. can order free at-home tests from the U.S. Postal Service. Visit covidtests.gov to place an order.

NIH has created MakeMyTestCount, a site that allows you to report your at-home COVID-19 test results safely and privately. Public health officials can use this anonymous data to track COVID-19 levels in our communities and keep us safe. This project is funded through the NIH RADx® Tech Initiative.

More information on at-home tests and testing:

What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?

Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and can recover at home. You can help yourself recover and keep the virus from spreading within your family and to others by following the CDC guidelines for at-home COVID-19 care. If you are experiencing moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms, talk to your doctor.

In March 2022, the White House launched the Test to Treat initiative to give people quick access to life-saving COVID-19 treatments. Hundreds of participating pharmacy-based clinics, community health centers, and long-term care facilities now provide free testing for COVID-19 and allow a person who tests positive at their site to be evaluated by a health care professional. If the treatments are right for them, they can be given antiviral medication right away. Find your closest Test to Treat site here or call 1-800-232-0233.

When should I get tested for COVID-19?

If you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should get tested — even if you have been vaccinated. Get tested for COVID-19:

  • If you develop COVID-19 symptoms

  • At least 5 days after known or suspected exposure to someone with COVID-19

What are the types of COVID-19 tests?

A viral test looks for current infection. There are two types of viral tests:

  • The antigen test (also called the “rapid test”) gives results in as little as 15 minutes. You are more likely to get a false negative result from the antigen test. If you have symptoms but get a negative test result from the antigen test, your doctor may give you a molecular test to confirm the results.

  • The molecular test can take a few days to a week to provide results. The most common test relies on a laboratory method called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect SARS-CoV-2 genetic material.

An antibody test is designed to tell you whether you had an infection in the past.

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