Whether or not you have symptoms, plan to wear a face mask to and from your appointment location, and have anyone who comes with you wear one, too.
If you think you may have COVID-19, call your doctor’s office to review your symptoms, if any, and ask about testing. Then your doctor and other staff can prepare for your visit, wear personal protective equipment, and give you instructions about where to go and how the test will be done. Plan to wear a face mask to and from the testing center, and have anyone who accompanies you wear one, too.
For a COVID-19 diagnostic test, a health care professional takes a sample of mucus from your nose or throat, or a sample of saliva. The sample needed for diagnostic testing may be collected at your doctor’s office, a health care facility or a drive-up testing center.
If you have a productive cough, your doctor may collect a sputum sample, which contains secretions from the lungs, a part of the lower respiratory system. The virus is more concentrated in the nose and throat early in the course of the infection. But after more than five days of symptoms, the virus tends to be more concentrated in the lower respiratory system.
In addition to the COVID-19 diagnostic test, your doctor may also test for other respiratory conditions, such as influenza, that have similar symptoms and could explain your illness.
The FDA granted emergency use authorization for certain at-home COVID-19 test kits, including one that tests for both COVID-19 and the flu. Most of these tests require a doctor’s prescription. You collect your own sample of nasal fluid or saliva at home and then send it to a lab to be rapidly analyzed. One COVID-19 test provides fast results at home without sending the sample to a lab. And the FDA recently authorized an antigen test to buy over the counter with no prescription needed, though antigen tests are not considered as reliable as PCR tests.
The accuracy of each of these tests varies, so a negative test does not completely rule out having the COVID-19 virus. Only get an at-home test that’s authorized by the FDA or approved by your doctor or local health department.