Concerns about testing availability, risk of exposure, and the COVID-19 incubation period may all lead you to wonder about the recommendation for how often to get tested for COVID-19. Some employers, schools, and other places where larger gatherings occur may recommend or offer routine screenings. However, if you do not have access to routine screenings then it helps to understand more about when it is most appropriate to get tested.
Routine screenings for COVID-19 are generally set up for people who are not currently experiencing any symptoms of the virus. Sometimes referred to as asymptomatic screenings, these allow for large groups of people, such as employees or students, to get regular testing to help manage the spread of the virus. While screening for symptoms only can be beneficial, it is possible to be asymptomatic and still carry the COVID-19 virus. That is why it is imperative that each person do their part to keep themselves and their community safe by wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
If you are able to participate in routine screenings for COVID-19, it can help to more rapidly identify whether or you or someone in your vicinity has the virus and take measures to safely isolate and quarantine. Asymptomatic people and those who have been recently exposed but are early in the incubation period can be extremely contagious but not realize it. As information continues to evolve around COVID-19 and how it spreads, guidelines are monitored and updated by the CDC as well as your federal, state, and local health officials to reflect the most accurate information at the time.
Testing for a Current Infection
If you have been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, then you may want to get tested. After you have been in close contact with someone with the active COVID-19 virus, you should isolate yourself right away. The incubation period for the virus is 3-14 days, with 5-7 days after exposure being the most common for developing symptoms and testing positive. This means that if you believe you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should isolate yourself or self-quarantine for at least 3 days before getting tested for COVID-19 and until after you receive your results.
People who have current symptoms of COVID-19 should also isolate or self-quarantine as much as possible. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and loss of taste or smell. If you are experiencing these symptoms and believe you have COVID-19, check with your healthcare provider on when would be the most appropriate time for you to get tested. It will help if you can identify when the symptoms started so your doctor can get an estimate for when you may have been exposed and the severity of your symptoms.
Testing for a Past Infection
Antibody tests are available to determine if you have had COVID-19 in the past, whether or not you experienced any symptoms. Antibodies refer to the types of proteins your body develops to fight the virus, and antibody tests look for the presence of antibodies specific to COVID-19 in your system. It is important to note that antibody tests do not test for whether you are currently infected with the COVID-19 virus. If your antibody test results are positive, you should still practice social distancing and wear a mask to protect yourself and others from further exposure. If you test negative, you may not have had COVID-19, you could be currently infected, or you were too recently infected for the antibody proteins to fully develop. Regardless of your results, it is impossible to say with certainty that you will not be able to spread the virus to others around you, so it is always better to take precautions.