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While testing for coronavirus is still uneven throughout the country, criteria for individuals who can get tested has loosened. And now that the country is reopening stores, restaurants and businesses in phases, concerns about a second wave of the coronavirus puts the question of COVID-19 testing top of mind — especially if people aren’t legally obligated to follow social distancing standards and wear face masks. Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases is spiking in half the US states. The prevalence of testing could play a partial role.
Many facilities are transformed into COVID-19 testing sites, from drive-through test locations to medical centers. Getting a test, however, isn’t always as simple as just showing up whenever you want. If you do, there’s a chance you’ll be turned away because facilities are overwhelmed or want to cut down on large groups milling around.
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The situation is rapidly changing as more test kits are being made and deployed. And until scientists can find a treatment or develop a vaccine, testing will help determine if the person should isolate from others. Nasal swabs and antibody tests can tell us if people, including those who appear asymptomatic, have harbored the virus. If they have, they may spread it unknowingly. Helping identify people who have been in close contact with the infected person can help protect vulnerable groups at higher risk of fatality from the COVID-19 disease.
Here’s what you need to know about who can get tested for the coronavirus.
Can just anyone get tested?
It depends on where you live. New York, which leads the US in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and fatalities, still has criteria that a resident must meet in order to be tested. However, in California, 40 locations in the Bay Area offer free testing to all residents, even if they’re not showing symptoms. They still need to have an appointment, however. Kentucky is also letting anyone sign up to get a COVID-19 test at any Kroger location. And as of June, any Indiana resident can get tested without showing symptoms.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order (PDF) that lets residents get tested at no cost if they’ve been working outside their home for more than 10 days and if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, like coughing.
Having more access to the test kits will help allow cities and states to test more people. As a result, sites with a limited number of tests available are often reserved for higher-risk patients. For example, those with underlying health conditions or those exhibiting strong symptoms that are associated with COVID-19, such as trouble breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, confusion and bluish lips or face. More recent guidance from the CDC adds that obesity at any age and pregnant women are at a higher risk for increased coronavirus symptoms.
How do I get a doctor’s order to be tested?
In many cases, you will need to have an appointment and a doctor’s order to qualify for a coronavirus test.
Each state has its own policies about testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you contact your state health department to get more information. It can also let you know which testing site to visit.
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When you should seek medical attention
Coughing, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and loss of taste or smell are symptoms of coronavirus, but the CDC says that if you’re having trouble breathing, that’s a more serious symptom and an indication to seek medical attention. Other serious symptoms include pain or pressure in the chest, confusion and bluish lips or face.
You should also seek medical attention if you’re considered a higher risk person — aged 65 years and older, or someone with hypertension, heart disease, autoimmune disease, moderate to severe asthma, kidney or liver disease, diabetes, severe obesity or are pregnant.
CDC priorities for who gets tested first
The CDC has new guidance as of June 13 for the patients who should get tested for coronavirus first in areas where testing is limited.
- Hospitalized patients with symptoms.
- Health care workers and first responders.
- Residents in long-term care facilities with symptoms, like prisons and shelters.
- Individuals who live in large households, or individuals who live with someone who is high-risk.
- Critical infrastructure workers.
- Individuals 65 and older.
- Individuals at high risk for severe disease.
- Pregnant women.
- Individuals with symptoms who don’t meet any of the above requirements.
- Deceased individuals.
- Individuals without symptoms who don’t meet the above requirements.
What happens if I don’t get tested and I think I have the coronavirus?
The CDC notes that most people who have acquired COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and can recover at home in self-isolation without medical care, and therefore don’t have an urgent need to be tested. You can also speak with your doctor about getting an antibody test to determine if you have previously had the virus.
If you don’t meet the above requirements to immediately get tested, here’s what you should do if you or someone in your household gets coronavirus. Now is also a good time to either make a face mask or buy one online to help prevent spreading the virus to others.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.