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COVID-19 tests — more important than ever

Originally published by the Washington State Department of Health.

COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Washington. Other than getting vaccinated, testing is one of our most important tools for slowing the spread.

Testing helps protect our community by containing the virus and preventing further outbreaks. It can also help us track the spread of variants in Washington.

It’s something we could all use a refresher on, especially with the rise of more transmissible variants, like the delta variant.

Who should get tested?

Anyone, regardless of vaccination status, should get tested if they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19. They should also get tested if they have had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

If you’re not fully vaccinated, you should also get tested if:

You’ve taken part in activities that put you at higher risk, such as being in large gatherings or crowded indoor settings.

You’re traveling (even domestically). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends unvaccinated people get tested 1-3 days before a trip and 3-5 days after returning from a trip.

The vaccines are very effective, but breakthrough cases can happen. If you’re fully vaccinated, you may still need to get tested in some instances (even if you’re not showing symptoms). All passengers arriving in the United States from another country by air are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result.

What kind of test do I need?

There are three kinds of tests:

• A PCR test is a molecular test that looks for genetic material inside the virus, and can determine if a person is “COVID-19 positive.” The turnaround time for results with these tests is usually 24-72 hours.

• An antigen test, which can provide results more quickly, detects certain proteins that are part of the virus. These are most accurate for people who have symptoms, and within a certain timeframe after symptoms appear. Turnaround time for these tests is around 15 minutes.

• An antibody test shows if a person has been previously infected with COVID-19. These should not be used to diagnose a current infection.

The type of test you’ll need will depend on the situation. Your health care provider or testing site staff will decide which test to use. If you’re traveling, check with your airline and the CDC to see what kind of test you need.

Learn more about the three kinds of COVID-19 tests at doh.wa.gov/testing.

Where can I go to get tested?

There are community-based testing sites, local clinics, pharmacies, and drive-through sites throughout Washington.

How much does a test cost?

The cost of testing for those who have symptoms or have an identified close contact is typically covered by health insurance. No-cost testing is also available for people without insurance.

What happens if I test positive?

An interviewer from public health will contact you to discuss what’s next and what support is available. You will stay home in isolation for a designated period of time. If you need help while you’re isolating at home, you may be able to get support from Care Connect Washington.

Am I “in the clear” if I test negative?

Not necessarily. If you’re not fully vaccinated, and tested negative after a known exposure, you should quarantine yourself for 14 days after your last contact.

Testing is one of many tools for stopping the spread. With the rise of more transmissible variants of COVID-19, it’s vitally important that people get vaccinated, continue getting tested, and wear face coverings and masks — especially in public, indoor settings.

Visit doh.wa.gov/testing for more testing info.

For San Juan County-specific information, visit sanjuanco.com/1737/COVID-Vaccine-Info.