What Should I Do After My COVID-19 Test?

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Person getting a nasal swab test for COVID-19

You just got a COVID test, now what? If virus activity is high and labs are busy, it may take up to a week to get your result. Infectious disease expert, Dr. Rossana Rosa with UnityPoint Health, explains how to keep your family and community safe while you wait for your test result.

What Should I Do While Waiting for My COVID-19 Viral Test Results? 

Dr. Rosa says what you should do while waiting for your COVID-19 test result, depends on why you got a test in the first place. Ask yourself these questions:

I Was Tested Due to a High-Risk COVID-19 Exposure 

What to do: quarantine.

A high-risk exposure means you were in close contact with someone for a total of 15 minutes (or more) who was later diagnosed with COVID-19. As a reminder, quarantine is used to describe the separation of people who aren’t ill but have been exposed to an infectious disease. 

To quarantine, follow the advice of local public health authorities. For the least amount of risk, the CDC suggests a quarantine period of 14 days. However, following additional research, the CDC released two additional quarantine options in December 2020 in order to help those missing work. The first option is dropping the quarantine time to 10 days with no COVID test. Or, there’s a seven-day quarantine option, which includes receiving either an antigen or molecular test on, or in the 48 hours before, day seven of quarantine.

“The CDC has a core group of scientists focused on emerging COVID-19 evidence. They determined the period of incubation is still between one and 14 days. However, the chances of transmitting the virus after day 10 are very low. The chances of transmitting the virus after day seven are also very low. But, if you have a test at day seven to tell you if you’ve developed the infection or not, those chances are even lower,” Dr. Rosa says.

I Was Tested Because I Feel Sick 

What to do: self-isolate.

If you’re feeling sick with symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19 (fever, cough, loss of taste and smell, muscle/body aches etc.), you should remain in isolation until you learn your test result. 

“Whether you decide to isolate also depends on the level of community spread. If there is uncontrolled community transmission, your chances of contracting the virus are high, and you should act as if you’re infected if you have any COVID-like symptoms,” Dr. Rosa says.

Isolation is the separation of anyone who is sick from others who are not sick. It’s best to find a space in your home where you can stay away from others completely, and ideally, use a bathroom that isn’t shared.

“If you’ve had a high-risk exposure, or you’re symptomatic, it’s preferable to wear a mask at home. If you go into a shared room, you need to maintain distance, too. If you must go into a room where people are – it’s a good idea to wear a mask. No mingling while you’re waiting for your result,” Dr. Rosa says.

I Was Tested Because I Want to See Family 

What to do: follow masking and social distancing recommendations.

If you’re getting a test because you’re traveling to see family or friends, but you haven’t had a high-risk exposure and don’t have symptoms, no quarantine or isolation periods are needed. While you wait for your test result, it’s best to wear your mask, social distance and avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces, like restaurants, so you don’t contract the virus waiting for your test result.

How to Access Your Test Result

If you got a COVID-19 test through UnityPoint Health, you can access test results in MyUnityPoint (powered by MyChart). Once your COVID-19 result is available, you’ll be notified, and it’ll appear under the “test results” section.

Test or No Test – Care for Yourself

Whether or not you have been tested or received your test result, it is important to care for yourself and protect others in your home and community. Most people with COVID-19 can recover with mild illness safely at home. Treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medication, stay well hydrated and get plenty of rest. Monitor your health, if you notice your symptoms worsening, call ahead to your doctor’s office for advice. Emergency warning signs for COVID-19 include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion and bluish lips or face. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 and tell them you may have COVID-19.