DECEMBER 1, 2021 – Back to school, back to the office, back together for the holidays: When you’re around more people, it’s important to watch for COVID-19 symptoms and limit spread of virus . . . even if you don’t have symptoms.
Testing is an important tool to prevent the spread of COVID. Here’s when and how to get tested for COVID – and when to get medical care.
When to test
The two most important times to test are after you may have been exposed to the virus, or before you spend time with medically vulnerable people (like grandparents).
Some COVID-19 symptoms can seem like a cold, flu or even allergies. Don’t dismiss them. Anyone experiencing any COVID symptom, whether vaccinated or not, should get tested.
No symptoms? Get tested when you:
- Plan to spend time with people outside your household
- Are traveling (coming + going)
- Attended a high-risk event (sporting event, concert, large indoor gathering)
- Have close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19
- Aren’t fully vaccinated and work in close contact with a lot of people
- Aren’t fully vaccinated and go to childcare, school, sports or extracurricular activities
- Have an immunocompromising condition (even if fully vaccinated)
- Were asked to, by a health care provider or health department
- Think or worry that you might have COVID-19
You don’t need to get tested if you tested positive for COVID-19 within the last three months and don’t have symptoms now – even if you’ve been in close contact with an infected person. If you develop any symptoms, get tested.
Got more people than test kits? Prioritize those who aren’t fully vaccinated (like kids), and those who may have spent more time in settings where they might have been exposed (like work).
How to test
Testing in a clinic, pharmacy or community center usually uses a PCR test, the most accurate method to detect any amount of COVID virus. A nasal swab, throat swab or saliva sample are processed in a lab. Results are back in about 72 hours, depending on how busy the lab is. Employers or schools may require a negative PCR test before you can return.
Rapid testing and at-home kits use antigen tests to tell if you’re infectious and prevent you from unknowingly spreading virus to others. Antigen tests are less accurate than PCR tests – yet accurate enough to show if you’re infectious, so you can take precautions right away. Believe a positive test, but be wary of a negative test being false. If it’s positive, quarantine – and confirm with a PCR test or second rapid test from a different brand. If it’s negative but you have symptoms, been in a high-risk situation or had a known exposure, follow up with a PCR test. Rapid tests at community sites have results in about 1-3 hours. At-home kits give results in 15 minutes.
- Clinic: Schedule an appointment. Ask if PCR or rapid test is available, if you have a preference. No cost. (Fees are covered by insurance or government funding.)
- Pharmacy: Schedule an appointment. Some will test via drive-through. Free.
- Community site: Search Minnesota’s database of testing sites for rapid and PCR options. Free.
- At home: Buy a test kit online or at a pharmacy. Follow test kit instructions exactly. Cost is $14-$24 for two tests.
- By mail: The state and Vault Medical Services mail you an at-home saliva test kit, you mail back a saliva sample and get results via email in about 2-4 days. Free.
While waiting for results:
- Stay away from others if you have any symptoms, even if you’re vaccinated. (If no symptoms and vaccinated, and you haven’t been exposed to someone with COVID, it’s OK to be with others.)
- Wear a mask indoors when not at home.
- Make a plan in case you test positive. You’ll have to isolate for at least 10 days, even if you don’t feel sick.
- Tell people you’ve been near that you may have COVID-19. If they’re not fully vaccinated, they should stay away from others until they hear from you.
When to get care
For mild or moderate symptoms, call your clinic. On evenings and weekends, use Urgent Care.
If you have any of these severe symptoms, go to the Emergency Department or call 911:
- Trouble breathing
- Pain or pressure in the chest or belly
- Severe dehydration
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or repeated vomiting
- Very high fever
- Fever that gets better, then suddenly worsens, especially with an increased cough
- Sore throat
- Unable to drink fluids
- Significant weakness
DO NOT go the Emergency Department for a COVID-19 test if you don’t have severe symptoms.
Being vaccinated – and boosted – is your best protection against getting or spreading COVID. Schedule your vaccination or booster. It’s free. The state’s Vaccine Connector is searchable by location. Local options include pharmacies, Rice County Public Health, and Dakota County Public Health.