You Asked: How Do I Get Tested For COVID-19?

May 14, 2020

We're continuing to answer questions about the coronavirus and COVID-19, and the latest batch showed that there's still a lot of confusion about testing. Who needs it, how is it done, where is it done—and more. 

These questions came from Indiana Public Broadcasting’s text group. And a note of caution: As the COVID-19 case count increases, information about the disease is changing quickly. We recommend checking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the latest info on staying safe. 

How do I get tested? How often should I be tested?

Check your state and local health departments for testing site locations and requirements. Some sites require a doctor’s note, others just require an appointment. Once tested, stay in contact with your doctor to determine if you should be tested again. People in high-risk groups may need to be tested multiple times.

Who can be tested? Can everyone?

Even as testing capacities expand, it is still unlikely that everyone will be tested. Priority testing goes to those who are symptomatic or have come in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. Officials say even people who are not symptomatic can and should get tested if they fall into these high-risk categories:

—People over the age of 65.

—People with diabetes.

—People with obesity.

—Women who are pregnant.

—Minorities, because they have an increased risk for pre-existing medical conditions.  

But remember: It's possible to test negative and then contract the virus a few days later.

What is an antibody test? What value does it bring?

Antibody tests are blood tests used to check if a person has previously been infected with COVID-19. The idea is the tests will reveal how widespread the virus is, but also help determine when people can return to daily activities.

The problem is many different antibody tests were created and the accuracy of the tests is questionable. And remember, this is a new coronavirus—not a lot is known about immunity yet. So, if a person tests positive for antibodies, health experts are not certain how long immunity lasts.

Why are states opening up if we aren’t testing enough?

There's still a significant disagreement about when, and how fast, the sconomy should be reopened. But public health experts say increased testing is crucial to reopening.

Pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. says Indiana should administer at least 20,000 tests a day to identify coronavirus hot spots and help contain the virus. Although the state is adding more test sites, it has yet to test that many people in a day.

So, why are states opening?

Maybe most important, hospitals are not overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Hospitals are equipped with enough ICU beds and ventilators to handle an increase in serious cases. That’s important, because if states open up and testing ramps up, more cases are inevitable, public health experts says. 

Officials say as states open and more cases pop up, contact tracing is important to help contain the spread of the virus. Contact tracing is a series of steps to monitor and isolate an infected person and determine who they came in contact with. Those people are then notified and monitored for symptoms.

It is also important to note that most states are not returning to businesses as usual. They generally are loosening stay-at-home orders and allowing some non-essential businesses to reopen. That means restaurants may be able to serve dine-in customers at small capacities. Or personal services like salons may be allowed to take customers by appointment only. The rules vary—often significantly—from one state to another.

Have more COVID-19 questions? Join the Midwest Checkup—a text tool to strengthen the connection between community members and reporters who cover health in the region.

Side Effects, WFYI and Indiana Public Broadcasting are asking Americans about health issues, as part of America Amplified: Election 2020. The public media initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, uses community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. Follow on Twitter at @amplified2020.