COVID-19 Testing Process: What You Need To Know

An image of a cotton swab in a test tube on the left and a CDC COVID-19 diagnostic panel on the right

You may be wondering about whether or not you need to get tested for the coronavirus and what happens when you do get tested. Here’s what you need to know.

I’m worried I might have the coronavirus. Do I need to get tested?

Though the requirements for who can be tested for COVID-19 have been loosened, not everyone really needs it. If you are sick with a fever or cough and have a higher risk for complications from severe respiratory infections (age 60+, have a chronic medical condition, or are pregnant) call your healthcare provider and ask if you need to be evaluated in person. This decision is the healthcare provider’s to make.

Other people with mild illness who are concerned about their health can call their healthcare provider to discuss COVID-19 testing and other possible reasons for their illness. We don’t currently have medications to treat COVID-19, so whether you test positive or negative your healthcare provider’s advice for managing mild symptoms will be the same.

My provider says I need to get tested. What happens next?

Right now, all testing is done at your healthcare provider’s office. Your provider may take specimens from you, including swabs of your throat, nose, and a sample of your saliva. They will then send these specimens to an appropriate testing facility within the state, such as the Washington State Public Health Lab in Shoreline or the University of Washington Virology Lab.

Once a lab receives your specimen, they will do what is known as accessioning. This includes some paperwork, initial specimen prep, and inputting the content into the lab information management system. They will then ready the results for testing.

In general, a lab can turn around results in a 24–48 hour time window depending on how many specimen are in their queue. Including shipping, prep time, testing time, and the lab’s capacity, it could take up to seven days to get the results back. This time will slowly be decreasing as more labs start testing.

The results of your test are then shared with your local health department, who then shares it with the state health department. While we don’t give out sensitive information like your name and address, we do report out the total number of positive results.

I keep hearing about these “testing kits.” What exactly are these?

The items used to test for the new coronavirus are not specialized test kits for COVID-19. They’re the same items used by your provider to test you for flu and other respiratory illnesses.

The “testing kits” that have been developed by CDC aren’t a specific item that your doctor uses to collect a specimen from you. Instead, these are tools that are provided to labs to support testing capability. These tools (referred to as diagnostic panels) include things like testing reagents and primer — chemicals or biologics that labs need to determine if the samples contains COVID-19. These diagnostic panels are not available for home-use.

The Washington State Department of Health is still actively working with local, state and federal partners to increase testing capacity for the new coronavirus (COVID-19). The data collected from the tests provides valuable information to epidemiologists on how and where the virus is spreading. It will go a long way in helping us understand the disease better and protecting and improving the health of all people in Washington State.

Stay tuned for our next blog post on what to do if you test positive for COVID-19.

Daily update on COVID-19 case numbers

Our Department of Health COVID-19 webpage is updated daily with the number of people confirmed to have positive cases and the number of people who have died of COVID-19 in Washington state. As of this writing, 162 people in Washington have tested positive for COVID-19, and 22 have died of the disease. We are very likely to see more people with COVID-19 identified in the coming days.

Get and spread reliable information on COVID-19

This blog update is current as of the day it is posted, but information changes rapidly. Please check our website for the most up-to-date info on Washington’s response to COVID-19 at www.doh.wa.gov/coronavirus.

Fight stigma, public panic, and misinformation by getting your information from trusted sources. Listen to guidance from the World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and your local health department.

Contact us

If you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state, start by visiting our website. Public can contact our call center 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, at 1–800–525–0127.