Coronavirus: Can you be tested for COVID-19? Maybe.

Credit: J. Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

Credit: J. Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

Health research groups and public health officials are warning that a dramatic increase in diagnostic testing for the COVID-19 virus is needed to make informed decisions about reopening areas of the country as 44 states are poised to do in some fashion by this weekend.

Testing for the virus has been controversial with the White House saying that the numbers for testing were among the highest in the world per population, and health experts say the numbers are woefully short of what is needed.

Harvard's Global Health Institute says the U.S. should be doing more than 900,000 tests per day to gauge the virus’ spread. The group revised the projection up from between 500,000 and 600,000 daily as states begin the process of loosening restrictions.

Currently, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the U.S. is testing roughly 248,000 people per day. So far, 8.1 million tests have been conducted in the U.S. You can click here to see the testing numbers for your state.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, spoke about the increase in testing for the COVID -19 virus Thursday during a CNN town hall.

“I’ve been very encouraged about two parts of the testing,” Birx said.

“One, the dramatic increase in the number of tests we’re doing per week. We hope this week to get close or over 8 million. We're going up."

Birx said she is also encouraged about being proactive in testing vulnerable areas.

“I really want to emphasize over and over again that this asymptomatic spread is key,” she said. “We have to be able to find it.”

Birx said about 2.5% of all Americans have been tested. Both Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, have stressed that testing and contact tracing are important to both contain the spread of the virus and to be able to make informed decisions on reopening areas of the country.

So what if you want to be tested for COVID-19? Is a test available? Can you test yourself at home?

Here is what we know about the test and how the testing process works:

Who should get tested?

Whether you should be tested is the first question you and your doctor need to answer. If you feel ill, you should call your primary care provider or contact your state or local health department to determine if you should be tested. They can help you evaluate your symptoms and your risk level for the virus, and give you information on what to do after that.

If you are having a difficult time breathing or have a high fever, you should call your doctor or 911 for help. Other signs you may need emergency help, from WebMD, include:

  • Pain or pressure in your chest.
  • Confusion.
  • Trouble staying alert.
  • A blue tint to your lips or face.

How does the testing process work?

After it is determined that you should be tested, you will be given directions on where to go to get tested. It will likely not be your doctor’s office. You will most likely be sent to a public drive-thru testing site or perhaps a testing site in a specific part of a hospital or the hospital parking lot.

You will probably be asked to wear a mask. Health care officials will tell you what to do once you get to the place the test is to take place.

How does drive-thru testing work?

After you have contacted your doctor, you will get instructions and directions to a testing site. You will need to bring your physician’s order and a valid photo ID.

Be sure to check in with the test center to make sure you do what is needed before you go so you can get a good and accurate test when you get there. This could be refraining from taking fever-reducing medication or eating prior to the test, depending on what type of test you will be getting.

Once there, you will stay in your car and follow the directions given to you by the health care providers at the site. You may be asked to fill out a form as you wait for the test.

You will be told how and when you will get the results of the test. You will be urged to quarantine until your results are known.

How much does it cost for a drive-thru test?

There is no cost to the person getting the test.

Where are drive-thru coronavirus tests available?

More testing sites are opening. When you contact your physician for an order to get a test, you will be given information and directions to a testing site.

You can also go to your state's health department site to find testing locations. Click here to see links to state health departments provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How long does it take to do the test and get results?

The test takes about five to 10 minutes – medical workers collect one or two samples.

The samples must be sent to a lab for testing. It generally takes between 24 and 48 hours for results.

Isn’t there a home test I can take?

You may see ads for COVID-19 home test kits, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only one diagnostic kit that allows a person to use a swab at home to collect a sample for testing. The diagnostic kit by LabCorp must be ordered by a doctor and can only be processed by LabCorp.

The kit costs $119 and are currently being prioritized for health care workers and first responders.

What type of test might you take?

The test you will likely get is called a nasopharyngeal swab. The test is conducted by a technician who will put a special 6-inch cotton swab up both sides of your nose and move it around for about 15 seconds. They test the material they get on the swab for the COVID-19 virus.

The test can be a bit uncomfortable, but they should not be painful. It can make some people gag.

There are other COVID-19 tests in which technicians use swabs to collect material from your mouth or throat, the front of your nostrils or the middle of your nostrils.

You may have a blood or “serology” test. Those tests look for antibodies in your blood. If COVID-19 antibodies are in your blood, it means you’ve had the COVID-19 infection.

Some states are offering a saliva-based test or a cheek swab.

On Friday, the FDA announced that it had granted emergency authorization for the first at-home saliva collection kit to test for the coronavirus.

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