Coronavirus Testing Explained: Answering Patients’ Questions
In the coronavirus pandemic, people are finding new ways to thrive as a society and show up for one another. However, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues to create fear, anxiety, stress, confusion, and anger. The dire state of our joint mental health at this time is questioning our ability to cope as a nation.
According to a recent poll conducted in March 2020 by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 7 out of 10 Americans (72%) admit that their lives have been disrupted “a lot” or “some” by the coronavirus outbreak. People are feeding on fear by consuming media more today than ever before. Yet, many seem to be trapped inside a myriad of their unanswered questions.
We have worked hard to answer the most common patients’ questions when it comes to coronavirus (COVID-19) testing. From “Who can get a coronavirus test?” to “What happens after a positive result?” we have summarized the answers for you below.
Can I get a Coronavirus Test?
According to the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19. If your symptoms are mild, you may be able to recover at home.
At this time, only healthcare professionals have been authorized by the U.S. State Department of Health to offer the test to patients. Some companies are selling home kits directly to consumers, but these kits are not backed by the U.S. FDA and may not be reliable.
The decision of whether you can be tested for COVID-19 depends on your state and local health departments and/or your physician. However, the CDC has created a “priority” guide to help these authorities determine who should get tested. The priority for testing is as follows:
- Hospitalized patients and symptomatic healthcare workers
- Individuals who are at high risk of complication of infection (patients in long-term care facilities, the elderly, patients with underlying conditions, and first responders with symptoms)
- As resources allow, individuals who live in a community with rapidly increasing cases
- Individuals without symptoms
Why Can’t I and Everyone Else be tested for Coronavirus?
With the nation’s rapid growth rates in the number of COVID-19-related deaths combined with a limited supply of hospital test kits and equipment (personal protective equipment (PPE), collection swabs, and viral transport media), hospitals have been forced to assess their triage and determine which cases are more of a priority than others.
More importantly, the goal is to flatten the curve and slow disease transmission from person to person. Healthcare authorities have advised the public to stay home if they are only showing mild symptoms to minimize the risk of transmission to others and keep people safe. There are no benefits to get tested if you are only showing mild symptoms. There is currently no treatment for COVID-19 and you risk making other people sick if you demand to get tested at a physical facility.
“At this point in the pandemic, demand for unnecessary testing is contributing to the rapidly diminishing supply of [Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)] and leading to a decreasing supply of swabs and viral transport media used to collect diagnostic specimens for COVID-19 testing...emergency medical care should be reserved for persons who are severely ill, and persons with milder illness need to be strongly encouraged to stay home.”
A statement from the New York Department of Health
To determine who should be tested for COVID-19, healthcare providers have enforced coronavirus screening questions. The CDC has also created an online self-checker bot that asks a series of questions to determine the level of illness of an individual.
Why has it taken so long to test people for Coronavirus?
Initially in the U.S., the only testing kits available were at the CDC facility in Atlanta. These kits worked well. However, when the CDC began shipping the kits to laboratories across the US., the verification tests of the first batch of kits failed. Out of the laboratories that received testing kits, only 6 to 8 verified the tests were accurate. Unfortunately, 36 of the laboratories received inconclusive results from one of the reagents. This meant that the CDC had to rework their development process to create improved testing kits, which caused a delay in the availability of kits.
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) had already developed and shipped coronavirus testing kits to various countries around the world, the organization did not send any of these kits to the U.S because it chose to design its coronavirus testing kit. Hence, by the time the CDC started to ship testing kits to public health labs in the U.S., the WHO had already shipped 250,000 tests to more than 70 laboratories globally.
According to Dr. Seema Yasmin, a public health specialist and epidemiologist at Stanford University, “By the time the CDC was sending out its testing kits to some labs across the states, the World Health Organization had sent out tests to dozens of countries, who, by that point, had done hundreds and thousands of tests.”
Fortunately, since the CDC announced in March that public health labs can develop their coronavirus tests, many companies have jumped in to help. Our COVID-19 instant test kits can detect the presence of antibodies used to combat the virus.
Is the Coronavirus Test a Blood Test or a Swab Test?
The coronavirus test can be a blood test or a swab test, depending on what you are testing for.
The more common test currently is the coronavirus lab test, which is a swab test approved by the CDC for detecting an active infection in a symptomatic patient. During the swab test, mucus and saliva samples are collected from the nasopharyngeal cavity. The samples are then used to develop assays using real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. This swab testing method is also known as PCR testing.
Blood tests (also called serology tests) are used to detect a previous infection in a patient who is no longer showing symptoms (asymptomatic patient). Serology tests can detect antibodies that have been developed by the body to attack and kill the coronavirus. Due to the instant nature of these tests though, they can be used for pre-screening purposes to cut down on wait times and PPE use for the PCR testing.
Which Test is Better: the Coronavirus Blood Test or Swab test?
As described earlier, these two tests have different uses. The swab test is better for detecting an active infection, while the blood test is better for coronavirus antibody testing.
What Can I Do?
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. You can use a sanitizer that contains 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
Practice social distancing by keeping a distance (about 6 feet) from others and staying home as much as possible.
Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others and when in public. The cloth cover is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow, and then wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces every day.
What Happens After a Positive Coronavirus Test Result?
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may be hospitalized or sent home. If you are having trouble breathing, your physician may decide to keep you hospitalized. However, if you are only experiencing mild symptoms, you may be sent home to follow the following CDC steps:
- Stay home. Since there is no current treatment for COVID-19, if you are experiencing mild symptoms, you can recover at home without seeking medical care. Unless you need medical care, do not leave your home. While at home, make sure to contact your physician if you are experiencing symptoms such as trouble breathing.
- Practice “home isolation.” As much as you can, separate yourself from other people who live with you. Use a separate bathroom if available.
- Call ahead before going to your doctor’s office to let them know that you tested positive for COVID-19. Hospitals around the nation have developed entry protocols for patients who have COVID-19.
- Cover your nose and mouth around other people.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Wash and sanitize your hands often.
- Do not share personal household items.
- Clean high-touch surfaces every day.
- Monitor your symptoms according to the guidelines provided by your healthcare provider.
Remember that the only way to win the war on COVID-19 is to play your part. One of the best ways to flatten the curve is to practice social distancing to keep yourself safe and self-quarantine if you have been infected.
Also, remember to practice other CDC recommendations such as washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, covering your nose and mouth with cloth covers in public, and sneezing into a tissue or the inner part of your elbows.