Wondering How To Get Tested for COVID-19? We've Got Answers
Information on testing for the new coronavirus has been confusing at best. We break down what to do step by step, and we've got all the state hotlines, too..
You’ve got that dry cough and unmistakable fever. First thought? It’s COVID-19, of course. Possibly, but you can’t know for sure unless you get tested. But how exactly do you even go about that? We’ve got the answers—plus a state-by-state guide to the COVID-19 hotlines so you know exactly who to call for more info.
Can Anyone Be Tested for COVID 19?
No. While you may want to know right away whether your illness is actually COVID-19 or something else, it’s unfortunately not that simple. Currently, in the United States, there’s not an across-the-board recommendation that everyone with symptoms get tested. And there’s no recommendation that people without symptoms be tested either.
Who Should Ask About Testing?
If you have the symptoms—fever of 100.4 degrees fahrenheit, dry cough, or shortness of breath—and think you have been exposed to the virus, seek out testing. This is especially important if you’re in a high-risk group—you’re older or you have an underlying chronic condition like diabetes, lung disease, heart disease, or are immunocompromised.
According to the CDC high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include:
People aged 65 years and older
People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
Other high-risk conditions could include:
People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
People who have heart disease with complications
People who are immunocompromised, including those undergoing cancer treatment and those who take immune-suppressing medications
People of any age with severe obesity (body mass index [(BM]I)≥40) or certain underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as those with diabetes, renal failure, or liver disease might also be at risk
People who are pregnant should be monitored since they are known to be at risk with severe viral illness, however, to date data on COVID-19 has not shown increased risk.
Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune-weakening medications, including those used for chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and multiple sclerosis.
What’s the First Step to Getting Tested for COVID 19?
The first thing you should do is call your health care provider, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yes, call—or email—don’t just walk into your doc’s office without giving them a heads up that you may be infected. If you don’t have a regular primary care provider, you can contact a local urgent care center near you or call your state’s COVID-19 hotline number (listed below). Or you can try a telemedicine platforms like Forward or Ro, which remotely connect you with doctors who can assess your symptoms.
Over the phone or email, tell the provider your situation—what your symptoms are, when they began, and whether you’ve come into known contact with anyone with a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“Remote assessments are the first step, and the best way to avoid overcrowding sources that are offering swab tests,” says Nate Favini, M.D., medical lead at Forward, a primary-care practice with locations in several major U.S. cities. “If it is determined that you are high risk from a remote assessment, you’ll be advised to get further testing.”
Your doctor will use their best judgment to decide whether to approve you for testing. According to CDC guidelines, the factors they consider include:
Whether your symptoms are mild or severe
Whether you are in a high-risk group for severe COVID-19 complications
Whether you have had known contact with a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 in the 14-day period before your symptoms began
Whether you have a history of travel in certain geographic areas in the 14-day period before your symptoms began
Your doctor may test you for other possible causes of your symptoms, like the flu, to rule those out before moving on to COVID-19 testing, the CDC says. If your doctor approves you for testing, you’ll receive a written or digital order to present at the testing site.
Where Can I Get Tested?
Once you’re approved for testing, your doctor will give you details on where the testing will take place. “You should also contact your local health department for advice if your doctor has not done so already,” says Dr. Favini.
Ultimately, though, where you live largely determines the testing options available for you. Some doctors are able to swab your nose and throat in their office. In some states, like New York and Colorado, you may go to a drive-through testing center (more of these centers are on the way). Or you may be directed to a local hospital or private lab for screening.
Wherever you go, though, remember: You can’t just walk into the nearest lab or hop in line at the drive-through center and request testing—you need that order from your doctor first to prove that they’ve approved you.
In the coming days and weeks, testing options and availability may continue to change as the country works to better combat the pandemic. In fact, home testing kits may soon become available. EverlyWell, a home-testing company, announced that they will begin offering a home testing kit for COVID-19 on March 23, according to a report in Time. As part of the service, a telemedicine doctor will review your symptoms and decide whether to prescribe you the test.
Whether you're able to get tested or not, the advice if you have symptoms is the same: "If you have been exposed to a confirmed case or are concerned you may have been exposed to the virus, it’s best to self-quarantine for at least 14 days,” says Dr. Favini. “Anyone who has symptoms, whether or not you end up getting confirmation that you have COVID or not, should stay home and avoid exposing others.”
Your State-by-State Guide to COVID-19 Testing Information
CDC COVID 19 Hotline: 1-800-CDC-INFO
By phone: 888-264-2256 or call 2-1-1 or text 888-421-1266
By phone: 1-844-542-8201
Online: Arkansas Department of Health
By phone: 800-803-7847
Coachella Valley COVID-19 Hotline: 760-TEST988 (or 760-837-8988) (Provided by Eisenhower Health)
County of San Bernardino COVID-19 Hotline: 909-387-3911
By phone: 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911
By phone: 860-972-8100 or toll-free 833-621-0600
By phone: 1-866-408-1899 or TTY at 1-800-232-5460
District of Columbia
Online: DC’s Coronavirus website
Online: Florida Department of Health
By phone: 1-866-779-6121
By phone: 844-442-2681
Online: Hawaii Department of Health
Online: Idaho’s coronavirus website
By phone: Call 2-1-1 or your local public health district
By phone: 1-800-889-3931
By phone: 317-233-7125 or 317-233-1325 after hours
Online: Iowa Department of Public Health
For general COVID-19 information and questions: 319-384-8819
For patients with COVID-19 and flu symptoms: 319-384-9010
By phone: 1-866-534-3463
Johnson County COVID-19 Hotline: 913-715-2819
Finney County COVID Hotline: 620-272-3600
By phone: 1-800-722-5725
By phone: Louisiana 211 Network by dialing 211 or text LACOVID to 898-211
By phone: Maine's 211 system by calling 2-1-1 or 1-866-811-5695; or text your ZIP code to 898-211
By phone: Prince George's County Health Department COVID-19 Hotline: 301-883-6627
Maryland Department of Health COVID-19 Hotline: 410-767-6871
By phone: Massachusetts state 2-1-1 line
Online: Michigan coronavirus website
By phone: 1-888-535-6136
Online: Minnesota Department of Health
By phone: 651-201-3920
Online: Mississippi Department of Health
By phone: 1-877-978-6453
By phone: 877-435-8411
By phone: 1-888-333-0461 or contact your county or tribal health department.
By phone: 402-552-6645
Online: Nevada Health Response
Southern Nevada Health District's Information Line at 702-759-INFO
Washoe County COVID-19 Hotline: 775-328-2427
Nevada Statewide COVID-19 Hotline: 1-800-860-0620
By phone: New Hampshire's 211 system by calling 2-1-1 or call 603-271-4496
Online: New Jersey Department of Health
By phone: 1-800-222-1222
Online: New Mexico Department of Health
By phone: 1-855-600-3453
Online: New York Department of Health
By phone: 1-888-364-3065
By phone: 866-462-3821
By phone: 1-866-207-2880
Online: Ohio Department of Health
By phone: 833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634
By phone: 877-215-8336
Online: Oregon Health Authority
By phone: Call 2-1-1
By phone: 1-877-724-3258
By phone: 787-999-6202
By phone: 401-222-8022
By phone: 1-855-472-3432
By phone: 1-800-977-2880
Online: Tennessee Department of Health
By phone: 877-857-2945
By phone: : 1-877-570-9779
By phone: 1-800-456-7707
Online: Vermont Department of Health
By phone: 802-440-8844
Online: Virginia Department of Health
By phone: 877-ASK-VDH3
By phone: 1-800-525-0127
By phone: 1-800-887-4304
By phone: (608) 720-5300
Online: Wyoming Department of Health
By phone: Wyoming COVID-19 Health Care Provider Only Hotline: 888-996-9104