Questions People Often Have Before Their First COVID-19 Test

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life in many ways for many people. Testing has long been one way to figure out who is infected so that the infected individual can be isolated, reducing the spread of illness. COVID-19 testing is widespread and safe, but you may still have a few questions you'd like answered before your first COVID-19 test.

Will the test hurt?

Most COVID-19 tests involve a nasal swab. A cotton swab will be inserted into your nasal cavity to collect a sample of your mucous, which can then be analyzed for the presence of viral particles. This procedure is not exactly comfortable, but it should not hurt. If you have one nostril that is partially collapsed or overly narrow, let the practitioner administering your test know. They can collect the sample from the other nostril, which will be more comfortable.

Will the test tell you whether you had COVID-19 before?

COVID-19 viral tests tell you whether you currently have an active, COVID-19 infection. They don't give you information about whether or not you had COVID-19 in the past. If you do want to find out whether you previously had COVID-19, there is a separate type of test that measures your levels of antibodies to the virus. But this is a separate test from the viral tests that tell you whether you currently have and are capable of spreading the coronavirus.

How long does it take to get test results?

The answer to this question is highly variable based on the type of test you get and how backed up the testing location is. There are rapid tests that can give you results within 30 minutes. However, the more accurate tests, known as PCR tests, take a day or two to give results. If your testing center does not notify you the day after your test, you can call them to check up on the results. If you need results faster, call around to various testing centers and see what their wait times are before you take a test.

Is it safe to get tested if you were vaccinated for COVID-19?

Yes. The vaccine won't interfere with the test or make it unsafe in any way. Vaccinated people don't typically need to get tested unless they have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus. Check your local health department's guidelines for more information.

With these questions answered, you should now be better prepared for your COVID-19 test.