In this rapidly evolving pandemic, we are doing our best to keep you updated with the latest information. Keep in mind that data, guidance and best practices are changing rapidly. This information was last updated on July 8, 2020.
Should I get tested for COVID-19?
The answer to this question depends on:
(1) Your symptoms. If you have COVID symptoms, it is a good idea to get tested, especially if you live in an area where COVID is circulating.
(2) Your exposure. If you think you were exposed to COVID-19, getting tested is a good idea for two reasons. First, if you know you are positive, you can isolate yourself away from others and prevent getting them sick. Second, if you know you are positive, you will probably keep a closer eye on your own symptoms, and may seek medical care more promptly if your condition worsens.
(3) Your risk to others. If you live or work with other people – especially those who may be at high risk for doing poorly if they get COVID – getting tested if you suspect you were exposed is an important part of protecting those people.
If you are sheltering in place, and not being exposed to others without masking and distancing, and if you have no symptoms, there may be no need for a test at all.
When should I get tested?
If you have symptoms, you can get tested at any time with a good chance of detecting the virus if you have it. If you think you have been exposed, wait 5-8 days before being tested to maximize the chances that the virus will be detected. If you have symptoms or think you have been exposed, one option is to self-quarantine for 14 days and not get tested at all. In the event that you will not expose yourself to others at all (self-quarantine in your own room), a test is not necessarily required because it will not change your management, and you are not at risk of exposing others. If this is the route you choose to take, please keep an eye on your symptoms and be sure to truly quarantine yourself from others.
What does it mean to be “exposed?’
Close contact (within 6 feet) for more than 15 minutes with a person who has COVID-19 is considered exposure. Since someone can have COVID-19 and not know it, you should avoid close contact with anyone not in your household. High-risk activities can also be considered potential exposure, such as attending a gathering without masking or distancing, or flying in an airplane, especially from an area considered a hot spot. If you engage in any of these activities, you should consider yourself potentially infected for 14 days after the exposure, and should quarantine yourself. If you are unsure whether you have been exposed, stay away from those at high risk, get tested, and quarantine yourself. We understand that each individual is going to make their own choices about risks they take, but we hope everyone will do their best to protect others, especially those who are vulnerable.
What kind of test should I get?
The “gold standard” for COVID detection is a PCR test. This test is very sensitive, meaning if you have COVID, it will detect it about 99% of the time. So if you test positive, we are most certain that you have the virus. If you test negative, though, there is a chance that you got tested too early to test positive, especially if you have no symptoms (see When should I get tested, above). Antibody tests are not useful for detecting current infection, or even for determining whether you are “immune” to COVID. We are not sure yet whether a person is in fact immune after having COVID, and if they are, for how long. Therefore, the antibody test is mostly for research purposes or to satisfy your curiosity, but is not useful in practice and would not change management or decision-making in any way. At Roots we are offering PCR testing to the community. If you are a Roots patient, and have tested positive for COVID in the past, speak to your provider about getting an antibody test for informational purposes only.
When should I expect the results?
Generally in three to seven days. Through the course of this pandemic, we have seen backlogs and delays from the laboratories resulting in turnaround times ranging anywhere from 24 hours to 9 days. However on average, we have received results in 3-4 days. We will call you immediately if you are positive. And we strive to contact you within one week if you are negative. Upon registration we strongly encourage you to authorize us to email you your negative results, or leave a message with the negative result on your voicemail. This will expedite results return, and reduce the back-and-forth (and anxiety) that can occur when we leave you a non-specific message. If you would like to check on your result, please email us after five to seven days at firstname.lastname@example.org and include: your full name, your date of birth, and the city you were tested in (Oakland or San Jose). Please do not come to Roots or call our main number for results. This is resulting in delays in our overall response time as we are fielding a high volume of calls and visits from those whose results are still pending, taking us away from the task of notifying those whose results have already been returned.
What if my test comes back negative?
A negative test means that you did not have a COVID infection on the day you were tested. If you developed symptoms or think you were exposed after you took the test, you can get tested again. Or, if you think you got tested “too soon” after exposure (see When should I get tested, above), you can get tested again. No matter what, you should continue to follow current guidelines about hand washing, physical distancing, and wearing a face covering. COVID-19 is still active in the community and can be spread even by those who do not feel or look sick. Try to do your best with the guidelines so we can break the chain of infection!
What if my test comes back positive?
If you have a positive result, it means you have a COVID-19 infection. Most people with COVID-19 have a mild to moderate flu-like illness and do not need to go to the hospital. However, it will be important to regularly check on your symptoms and go to the emergency department for trouble breathing. You will also need to “isolate” yourself to prevent others from getting COVID, including the people you live with. This means you need to isolate in your own home (your own room if you live with others) and have someone bring you things you need like food. If you are or will now become unsheltered, we will help you get into safe shelter for isolation. When we call to give you your result, we will go through the orders for isolation and signs and symptoms to look out for.
You are required to follow County Isolation Orders for the county where you reside, even if you do not have symptoms. Following these instructions is critical to helping reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community. We recommend that you notify your employer, your household members, and any other close contact in the 14 days leading up to your test.
How can I protect others in my household if I test positive or if I think I was exposed?
Try to arrange your household so you can isolate or quarantine. Disinfect with disinfectant wipes or a bleach solution, wiping any and all shared surfaces including light switches, doorknobs, telephones, etc.. A separate isolation bathroom is ideal, but where not possible, perform thorough disinfection, close the toilet seat before flushing, and impose a ten minutes wait time before others enter the bathroom after you.
Share nothing. Do not prepare food for others, share drinks, smokes, towels, etc. This may mean keeping hand and bath towels in your bedroom so that you do not share towels.
Wear a mask when you leave your room, which should only be to go to the bathroom.
Food and other items should be brought to you. You are not allowed to go out.
Increase ventilation by opening windows and improving air circulation throughout the home.
Do I need to get tested again after I test positive?
No. In fact, the test is so sensitive that it will continue to detect the virus for weeks – more than a month in some cases. Repeat positive tests are meaningless to you because once you have completed your isolation period, you are no longer contagious. Also, taking repeat tests after you were positive takes up precious testing capacity in the community. Lastly, repeat positive tests take extra time for our team to sort out so that it is not counted as a “true” positive. We strive to call all positives immediately, so repeat positive tests threatens to clog up that system. All of this extra activity is unnecessary since once your isolation period is complete, you are no longer contagious and can go back to work or your regular activities (with a mask and distancing, of course!).