Novel coronavirus (COVID-19) tests are conducted in commercial, private and academic labs, as well as state and county health labs. UC Davis Health has greatly expanded our on-site testing capabilities, having developed and validated our own accurate COVID-19 test. We are doing this in full collaboration with Sacramento County Public Health and other public health agencies in order to take the pressure off other testing labs. Since we began testing in March, we have performed more than 10,000 molecular tests. 


Coronavirus testing example of swab in nose

Testing for COVID-19 involves inserting a 6-inch long swab (like a long Q-tip) into the cavity between the nose and mouth (nasopharyngeal swab) for 15 seconds and rotating it several times. The swabbing is then repeated on the other side of the nose to make sure enough material is collected. The swab is then inserted into a container and sent to a lab for testing.


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NOTE: This demonstration video shows how novel coronavirus testing is done. Proper sample collection involves swabbing BOTH nostrils.

Your health care provider can best advise you about the need to be tested for novel coronavirus (COVID-19. Public health officials are trying to contain the virus through early identification and isolation of people who are infected, and contact tracing to alert people who may have been exposed before they potentially expose others. All of this starts with rapid and accurate testing of people who may be infected with novel coronavirus.

Currently, COVID-19 tests are prioritized for the following groups:

  • Hospitalized and symptomatic individuals (or people about to be hospitalized for a procedure)
  • Health care workers and people in group living facilities
  • First responders and other social service employees
  • People exposed to infected individuals in places where COVID-19 risk is high

View a list of COVID-19 symptoms you should watch for

Find a coronavirus testing site in California near you

We don’t need to test – and really can’t test – large populations for novel coronavirus. It is not affordable, practical or logistically possible. Tests are like a photograph – they are only a snapshot for the time when the sample is taken. So, tests for people who don't have symptoms or any identified exposures are almost certain to come back negative. Instead, we recommend focusing testing capabilities on five key groups of people:

  1. People most likely to have the disease (such as symptomic people or those identified by contact tracing).
  2. People who would suffer greatly if they were to have novel coronavirus (such as people over age 65 and those with underlying conditions).
  3. People who can't always practice physical distancing (such as first responders, mass transit workers, grocery store employees, and health care workers).
  4. People in confined group living situations (senior living facilities, prisons, etc.).
  5. People who are hospitalized or having procedures, in order to protect patients and health care workers.

For those who are tested, rapid contact tracing of people who test positive for novel coronavirus is important to reduce the disease spread and future exposures. It means carefully quarantining those with COVID-19 so they can’t transmit it within their families. It also means testing those who may have been exposed and having them isolate themselves until it is determined that they are not infected.

Read more: Universal need for massive COVID-19 testing — Are we fooling ourselves?

At UC Davis Health, we test patients as part of diagnosing an illness, while they are in our hospital, or as part of a medical procedure they're having with us. We've also partnered with Sacramento County to open five community testing sites across the county:

Monday – 1-5 p.m.
La Familia Maple Neighborhood Center
3301 37th Ave., Room 7
Sacramento, CA 95824 (park on 36th Ave.)
Appointments: 916-990-1311

Tuesday – 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
Natomas Unified School District
1931 Arena Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95934
Appointments: 916-561-5253

Wednesday – 1-5 p.m.
Tetteh Pediatric Health
7248 S Land Park Dr., Suite 118
Sacramento, CA 95831
Click here for appointments.

Thursday – 1-5 p.m.
Robertson Community Center
3525 Norwood Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95838
Appointments: 916-567-9567

Friday – 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
South Sacramento Christian Center
7710 Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95823
Appointments: 916-681-6791

Get more information on COVID-19 testing sites in Sacramento County

Find a COVID-19 testing site in California near you 

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The diagnostic test that uses a nasal swab, known as a molecular PCR test, collects samples of cells and fluids from your respiratory system. It enables the identification of specific genes for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The specimen is collected using a long nasal swab that is inserted into the passageway between the nose and the back of the throat.

An antibody test, also known as a serology test, is done with a blood sample that may identify past infection of the virus that causes COVID-19. It’s a test that looks for evidence of the body’s immune response to the virus. Antibodies are detected in the blood after an infection. However, with COVID-19, we don’t fully know what the presence of its antibodies means yet.

Rapid antigen tests are often used to diagnose respiratory pathogens, including influenza viruses. The FDA has granted emergency-use authorization for rapid tests to determine COVID-19 infection, according to the CDC. Just like the COVID-19 tests that take longer to get results, these rapid tests use a nasal swab or nasopharygeal swab inserted to the back of the nose. Results are available in about 15 minutes. However, antigen rapid tests are known to be less sensitive than viral tests and perform best with people in the early stages of COVID-19 infection, when an individual’s viral load is the highest. Rapid tests are less expensive than the more accurate genetic tests and can be available at point-of-care.

No test is completely accurate, which means that some cases will be missed (false negatives) and some people will be told they have the virus when they don’t (false positives). Positive tests tend to be accurate, but negative tests need to be interpreted with caution, especially in a high-risk setting or when used on asymptomatic individuals. However, some experts argue that widespread testing, even when it’s less accurate, can still help contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Yes. Our clinical laboratory began internal testing in March, using CDC assays (tests to determine the presence of infectious agents like the novel coronavirus).

At the same time, we developed high-throughput assays on the Roche Diagnostics cobas® 6800 System to meet an expected surge in cases. The commercial device has the capacity to perform more than 1,000 tests per day, if the need arises. Since we began testing in March, we have performed more than 10,000 molecular tests.

Clinical pathologists, infectious disease physicians and scientists at UC Davis Health are now collaborating on new reagents (substances used for chemical analysis), diagnostic tests and a possible vaccine for COVID-19 in the hopes of preventing and treating the infection.

We don’t really know what the presence of coronavirus antibodies means. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re immune to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Medical science has yet to determine what level of antibodies confirm immunity, if immunity is possible, or how long immunity might last. The virus that causes COVID-19 was only discovered in December 2019. The result of a positive antibody test means nothing given the current gaps in knowledge about COVID-19. Until there is more definitive information, we should assume, even with positive antibodies, that a person may still be susceptible to the novel coronavirus.

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic involves information that is continually evolving as public health officials and scientists collect more data and develop a better understanding of coronavirus. We have information and resources for health professionals, including information for community providers and COVID-19 FAQs for health professionals.

Get the latest information for health care professionals from UC Davis Health