Coronavirus (COVID-19) testing: What you should know
Last updated March 17, 2020
Is there a test for novel coronavirus?
Yes, there is a COVID-19 test. It is becoming more widely available as more laboratories, both public and commercial, become certified. The state of California recently partnered with its first commercial COVID-19 testing lab and is expecting two more to come online this month, including one in Sacramento.
UC Davis Health is taking steps to greatly expand its testing capabilities on-site, with the goal of running our own tests within a few weeks. 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.
Do I need to, or should I, get tested for novel coronavirus?
Not necessarily. The level of disease spread within the community is now at a level where public health officials are no longer trying to trace how people became infected. At this point, health agencies are now treating coronavirus like most other cases of the flu or a cold. As a result, it is no longer necessary for everyone who may be infected to be tested.
Based upon what we have learned about the disease, and the level of spread within California, COVID-19 is now being spread widely within the community. Much like colds and the flu, not everyone who gets the infection needs to be tested. Many people will have infections which can be managed at home, without professional medical attention.
Who should get tested for novel coronavirus?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says not everyone needs to be tested for coronavirus (COVID-19):
"If you are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 or you are a resident in a community where there is ongoing spread of COVID-19 and develop symptoms of COVID-19, call your healthcare provider and tell them about your symptoms and your exposure. They will decide whether you need to be tested, but keep in mind that there is no treatment for COVID-19 and people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home."
Tests will primarily be for hospitalized or severely ill patients. Older people (over 60) and individuals with underlying medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, cancer — conditions that put them at much higher risk from COVID-19 — will also be a priority for testing. The availability of more tests may make testing available for a wider range of patients in the future.
As with the common cold or the flu, testing of people who are infected is often not necessary because there is no direct treatment outside of over-the-counter medications to manage symptoms. So not everyone needs to be tested.
How is testing for coronavirus done?
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 the swab 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.