When to Test and How
Healthcare systems are attempting to walk a fine line. We want everyone who needs a COVID-19 test to get one. Testing helps people determine whether they need to isolate from others and whether it’s safe to resume our lives after a suspected exposure. At the same time, nervousness and anxiety are inspiring people to get a PCR test when they may not need one. This causes unnecessarily long waits at testing centers. Here’s the latest.
Get a PCR test if:
- You have symptoms of COVID-19, even after vaccination.
- You have been informed that you are a close contact (within 6 feet for a total of at least 15 minutes) of someone with a confirmed case of COVID, even after vaccination.
Note that if you have tested positive in the past 90 days, you may test positive again, even after you have recovered without having been reinfected. Because reinfection within 90 days is so rare, getting tested within this timeframe may not be worthwhile.
A new web-based tool available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention helps people decide whether or not they need a PCR test for COVID-19. We’ve linked to it at svhealthcare.org/COVID-Resource-Center.
You may also need a negative COVID test if you are returning to college or boarding school or if you are traveling via plane, for instance. Some workplaces or family gatherings also require a negative test.
If you took part in activities that put you at higher risk—like travel or attending a big gathering in a crowded indoor setting—but have not been alerted to any potential exposure or you would like assurance that you’re not infected before attending an event, an at-home antigen test is likely sufficient to provide the reassurance you need.
Following these recommendations will ensure everyone gets the tests they need while preserving local testing capacity for those who need it most.
Karen Bond is the director of Laboratory Services at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, part of Southwestern Vermont Health Care, in Bennington.