Public Health

How Long After Exposure Should You Get A COVID-19 Test?

Khang T. Vuong, MHA12 Jul 2021

What are the different types of COVID-19 tests? When should I get tested? 

There are currently two main types of tests for COVID-19: diagnostic tests (PCR and antigen) and the antibody test.

PCR Test: This test detects an active infection of COVID-19. The sample for this test can either be taken through a nasal swab or a saliva sample. The results for PCR tests are typically available within 5-7 days. 

Antigen Test: This test, which is also referred to as a rapid test, is also used to detect an active infection of COVID-19. The sample for this test is taken through a nasal swab and test results are typically available in less than one hour.

However, these tests are more prone to a false negative result than the PCR tests. Your provider may want to confirm a negative antigen test by doing a PCR test as well. 

Antibody Test: This test detects a past infection of COVID-19. The sample for an antibody test is done by drawing blood from the arm. This test is not used to diagnose a current infection with COVID-19. 

I was exposed to someone with coronavirus - when should I get a COVID test?

If you were exposed to someone who has symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19, you should either: 

  1. Quarantine for 5-7 days, then get a test
  2. Quarantine for 10 days if you do not want to get tested

If you decide to get tested, you should either get a PCR or antigen (rapid) test. It is important to note that If you get tested the day of your exposure, your test result will come back negative.

In general, if you do not have symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested 5-7 days after your exposure. If you have developed symptoms, you should get tested 3-4 days after the first symptom onset

It is important to note that false negative tests are common, so getting a negative test result cannot certainly rule out the chance of having coronavirus. If you were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should self-quarantine for 10 days to avoid spreading the virus to others. 

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Contact tracing is another method of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Contact tracing helps protect you, your family, and your community by letting people know they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should monitor their health for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.

Sources: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02661-2 and https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2765837

Should I get a rapid or PCR test for COVID-19?

In general, the standard PCR tests are more accurate than the rapid antigen tests, meaning that you are more likely to get a false negative result from a rapid test. Therefore, in order to have the most accurate results, you should get a standard PCR test. 

However, if you need to get test results immediately in order to return to work, the rapid test may be the best option for you.

Where can I get a test for coronavirus COVID-19?

In general, many doctor's offices, urgent care facilities, hospitals, clinics, and drive through centers offer COVID-19 testing. Below are testing locations for some cities in the United States:

What should I do if I was exposed to someone with coronavirus COVID-19? 

As a general rule, the centers for disease control (CDC) constitute an exposure as being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes within a 24 hour period. However, these guidelines are not exhaustive - you can still get COVID-19 from being in contact with someone for fewer than 15 minutes, and even if you are more than 6 feet apart. 

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If you believe you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should immediately begin to isolate yourself for 10 days. Since cases are currently rising in the United States, it is important that we all play our part to avoid spreading coronavirus. In addition, you should notify all coworkers, friends, or family members that you have been in contact with. You should contact your doctor about getting a test and monitor your symptoms.

If you get a positive result, the CDC is recommending that you quarantine for 10 days. If you are feeling sick during this time, reach out to a health care provider to monitor your symptoms. 

How do I know if I have COVID-19, the flu, or the common cold?

If you are feeling ill this winter, it is possible that you are showing symptoms of COVID-19, the flu, or a common cold. See our article A Cold Vs. The Flu Vs. COVID-19- Similarities And Differences In Symptoms for more information on how to distinguish between these three illnesses. 

In general, the best way to know what sickness you have is to get a test for the flu and for COVID-19. A membership with Mira can help you get a home-delivered COVID-19 test for free.  

Sources: 

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/if-youve-been-exposed-to-the-coronavirus

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/covid-19-exposure-positive-test_l_5f771d7cc5b66377b280e67e

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/public-health-recommendations.html

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2765837

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02661-2