COVID tests and results: What you need to know
COVID-19 is a looming presence in the community. With the emergence of the Omicron variant and skyrocketing numbers of positive cases, you may have questions about testing and what you should do if you or a family member has a positive result. We turned to the experts at LMH Health for the answers.
What kinds of tests are there?
There are two main types of tests – a rapid test and a PCR test. A rapid test involves swabbing your nose and is designed to identify proteins from the virus. Results are available in about 15 minutes. Tests cost between $20-30 and are available over the counter, though are currently hard to come by, but your physician may also perform these tests.
A PCR test is performed by a medical professional in a lab or clinic. It involves a nasal swab and identifies trace amounts of virus DNA. An option to collect saliva may also be offered. It takes longer to receive your results – up to a day or two – but PCR testing is more accurate than a rapid test. Most PCR testing is still free.
Which test is best for me?
The answer is: it really depends.
“Deciding between a rapid and a PCR test is hard and often times, it’s based on availability,” said Caitlin Johnston, a nurse practitioner with LMH Health’s Internal Medicine Group.
If you’ve recently been exposed to the virus and aren’t symptomatic, a rapid test might be right for you. This is also a good choice for those who want to undergo testing for peace of mind.
“The biggest issue with rapid tests is that there’s a higher rate of false negatives. Repeating a rapid test within 24 to 36 hours of the initial test will allow you to say with fair certainty that you don’t have COVID, but no test is 100 percent,” Johnston said.
If you’re showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19, your primary care provider may recommend a PCR test. This may also be the best choice if you need to be tested prior to travel, as the location you’re visiting may require you to show proof of a negative PCR test.
Where can I get tested for COVID?
Finding a COVID-19 test isn’t always an easy process, especially if you’re looking for a rapid test. These tests are available over the counter or online but are in short supply in many parts of the country.
There are a number of locations in the area that provide testing. You can find an up-to-date list of testing sites at www.GoGetTested.com/Kansas. The one place you shouldn’t go to get a COVID test – your local hospital’s Emergency Department.
“If you need a COVID test, have your primary care provider contact the LMH Health Drive Thru Testing Center for scheduling,” said Traci Hoopingarner, Chief Nursing Officer at LMH Health. “Don’t come to the ED simply for testing.”
What do I do if I get a positive result? Have the guidelines changed?
The CDC recently changed their guidelines for isolation and quarantine. If you test positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms, stay home for at least five days and isolate yourself regardless of your vaccination status. This means staying away from others in your household but if you must be around others in the home, wear a well-fitted mask.
- You can end your isolation after five full days if you’re fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and your symptoms are improving. You can leave your home, but keep in mind that you could still potentially be infectious for up to ten days – more in some cases.
- If you never had symptoms, you can end your isolation at least five days after your positive test.
- If you were severely ill with COVID, you should isolate for ten days and talk with your primary care provider before you end isolation.
It’s important that you wear a well-fitted mask for ten full days anytime you are around others inside your home or in public. Don’t go to places where you’re unable to wear a mask. You should also avoid travel and avoid being around others who are high-risk. But what about going back to work?
“There isn’t a rule that employers have to follow when deciding how they bring people back after the five day mark. A negative test may be helpful, but may not be required. Check with your employer to find out what their policy is,” Johnston said.
I got negative results from a rapid test, but I’m still sick. What should I do?
At-home COVID test kits come in packs of two, so take a second test 24 to 36 hours after your first test. If you’ve got COVID symptoms but have another negative result from a rapid test, Johnston said to call your primary care provider – don’t walk into the clinic.
“The PCR test is the gold standard. If you’re symptomatic, give them a call. Your provider may order a PCR test to further rule out COVID-19, flu or other illness,” she said. “You can also get tested at other area locations including Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and some local pharmacies.”
When is it time for me to go to the hospital?
The good news is that most people who have COVID-19 – especially those who are fully vaccinated and boosted – won’t likely need to go to the hospital. You might be pretty sick, but you’ll be able to recover at home. But if you continue to get worse, contact your primary care provider.
If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 and get emergency medical care:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain or tightness
- Confusion or disorientation
- Difficulty staying awake
- Unusually pale, blue or grey skin, lips or nail beds
It’s also important to know that you’re at increased risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 if you have certain medical conditions, including:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- High blood pressure/hypertension
- Immune deficiencies
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes
“Emergency departments and urgent care clinics are overwhelmed. If you’ve got mild symptoms, stay home and call your primary care provider,” Hoopingarner said. “If you develop severe symptoms and need care, get to the hospital. We’re safe, open and ready to care for you.”