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How Does COVID-19 Testing Work: What Seniors Should Know

COVID-19 testing helps people to know if they have the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be easily spread from person to person by tiny droplets in our breath. Knowing if you have the virus that causes COVID-19 can help you to get treatment and to avoid spreading it to others. Testing is also important for others to have before they visit you if they have potentially been exposed to COVID-19.

There are many misconceptions about COVID-19 testing. It does not increase your risk of getting COVID-19 if done correctly, and your DNA is not collected. Getting COVID-19 testing if you have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 is important. This is especially important if you are over 65 years old or are in close contact with someone who is.

When Should I Get Tested for COVID-19?

Senior man wearing mask getting temperature check

Getting tested for COVID-19 is recommended if you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been around someone who may have the virus. According to the CDC, those who should get testing for COVID-19 include:

  • People with coronavirus symptoms
  • People who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19
  •  People who have been exposed to large groups of other people while traveling or at a public event
  • People whose healthcare provider recommends testing

There may also be additional reasons that someone would get tested. People who work with senior adults and people who are visiting seniors, for example, may need to get testing.

How Long After Exposure Should I Wait to Get a COVID-19 Test?

Senior woman receiving socially distanced groceries

The virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected within three days or sooner after exposure. If you are experiencing symptoms, you should get tested right away. If you are asymptomatic, the ideal timeframe to get tested is five to seven days after exposure. When you have been exposed, it takes time for the virus to show up as a positive test. .

If someone has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and it is too soon to get tested, keeping others safe is important. You should follow quarantine guidelines and try not to see anyone. If you do have to interact with others, wear a mask and avoid close contact with others or having family visit you until you have your COVID-19 test results.

What Kind of COVID-19 Tests are Used to Detect the Virus?

There are two main types of tests used to detect the virus. These are antigen tests, also called rapid tests, and PCR tests.

What is a rapid COVID-19 test?

Senior man getting Rapid COVID-19 test at walk up testing site

Rapid COVID-19 tests are called rapid because they do not need to be sent to a lab and can be analyzed very quickly. These tests are normally collected by a swab in the nose or throat. Results may be available as soon as 30 minutes after the sample is collected.

These tests are also called antigen tests because they do not test for the virus’s genetic material, but for other parts of the virus. This allows them to be tested more quickly, but makes them less accurate than the other main type of COVID-19 test.

Who Should Get a Rapid Test?

Rapid tests are ideal for someone who needs to know quickly if they might be COVID-19 positive. However, people who test negative on a rapid test should get a PCR test before ending their quarantine. Those who are staying safely at home will typically use a PCR test, not a rapid COVID-19 test. 

Your physician may order a rapid test to quickly check for  COVID-19 infection in certain, unique situations. If this is negative, they will likely recommend a followup PCR test to help make sure you do not have COVID-19. Some group facilities may ask their residents to get routinely tested using a rapid test to ensure that COVID-19 is not in the facility.

How Accurate is the COVID-19 Rapid Test?

The rapid COVID-19 test accuracy for rapid tests is very good if they are positive, but not as accurate if they are negative. This means that:

  • A negative rapid COVID-19 test means that you may or may not have COVID-19.
  • A positive rapid COVID-19 test means that you most likely do have COVID-19.

Someone who has a negative COVID-19 rapid test should have a follow up PCR test to further evaluate whether they could have COVID-19.

What is a PCR COVID-19 test?

Senior man receiving PCR COVID-19 test

A COVID-19 PCR test is the “gold standard” of COVID-19 testing. PCR tests look for the virus’s genetic material and can help say if someone has COVID-19 or not. These tests have to be sent off to a lab, and can take 24-72 hours or more to provide results.

PCR tests are collected from your nose. PCR tests are best for people who need to know if they have COVID-19 for their own health or who have had a negative rapid test.

How Do I Prepare for the COVID-19 Test? 

Senior woman doing intake form at COVID-19 Testing site

Preparing for a COVID-19 test is much easier than most other tests. You should refrain from smoking prior to the test and avoid using any nasal medications, but you may eat and drink as normal beforehand.

You should come to testing prepared like you would for any other medical test. Bring your ID, your insurance information, and any paperwork you need. There may be a wait to get tested or to get rapid test results back, so you may want to bring something to pass the time.

Does COVID-19 Testing Hurt?

COVID-19 testing should not hurt, but it may be uncomfortable. The nurse will likely use a swab that is inserted into your nose. The swab may need to stay in your nose for as long as 30 seconds. This should not hurt, but may make your eyes water and make you want to sneeze. 

What Do My COVID-19 Test Results Mean?

Senior woman wearing mask calling doctor for her spouse

There are three main results that you may get from a COVID-19 test. These are positive, negative, and inconclusive.

What Should I Do If I Test Positive?

If you test positive for COVID-19 and are having problems breathing or any other serious health concerns, you should immediately call your doctor. 

 If you are not experiencing symptoms but have tested positive, you should still call your primary care doctor as soon as possible and let them know that you have tested positive. 

Apart from keeping healthy yourself, you will also need to take measures to keep others healthy. Be sure to wear a mask and stay six feet away from others. Avoid going out and quarantine for ten days after your positive result. You should avoid having family members visit, and if you live in a group facility, avoid unnecessary contact with other residents during the quarantine period.

What If I Test Negative for COVID-19?

Testing negative for COVID-19 does not necessarily mean that you do not have it. If you were exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 within the last 72 hours, you may still have COVID-19 even though you have tested negative. If you start to have symptoms of COVID-19 after a negative test or are having symptoms, you should contact your doctor to figure out the next steps. 

What Does an Inconclusive COVID-19 Test Mean?

An inconclusive COVID-19 test means that there is not enough information to tell if someone does or does not have COVID-19. If you have an inconclusive COVID-19 test result, you should treat it like it is a positive result until you can get retested.

Where Can I Test For COVID-19?

Drive-thru COVID-19 testing site

We recommend that people only get tested if they have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19. Otherwise, the safest place is to be at home, physically distanced from others. 

Iora patients who have symptoms or are concerned about a recent exposure should call their care team directly. They can help you determine if you need testing, help you find your local testing site, and provide further advice on caring for yourself.

For more information about how Iora is handling COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions page.

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