Testing for COVID-19

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There are laboratory tests that can identify the virus that causes COVID-19 in respiratory specimens. State and local public health departments have received tests from CDC while medical providers are getting tests developed by commercial manufacturers. All of these tests are Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase (RT)-PCR Diagnostic Panels, that can provide results in 4 to 6 hours.

Who should be tested

Not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19. Here is some information that might help in making decisions about seeking care or testing.

  • Most people have mild illness and are able to recover at home.
  • There is no treatment specifically approved for this virus.
  • Testing results may be helpful to inform decision-making about who you come in contact with.

CDC has guidance for who should be tested, but decisions about testing are at the discretion of state and local health departments and/or individual clinicians.

  • Clinicians should work with their state and local health departments to coordinate testing through public health laboratories, or work with clinical or commercial laboratories.

How to get tested

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and want to get tested, try calling your state or local health department or a medical provider. While supplies of these tests are increasing, it may still be difficult to find a place to get tested.

What to do after you are tested

  • If you test positive for COVID-19, see If You Are Sick or Caring for Someone.
  • If you test negative for COVID-19, you probably were not infected at the time your specimen was collected. However, that does not mean you will not get sick. It is possible that you were very early in your infection at the time of your specimen collection 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 rule out getting sick later.

CDC expects that widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States will occur. In the coming months, most of the U.S. population will be exposed to this virus. You should continue to practice all the protective measures recommended to keep yourself and others free from illness. See How to Protect Yourself.

Symptoms

Watch for symptoms

Reported illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe illness and death for confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases.

These symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure (based on the incubation period of MERS-CoV viruses).

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath