Coronasmarts: Testing for past and current infections

If you’re just anxious or curious, COVID-19 testing isn’t for you, as appealing as a negative result may sound. (Although a whopping 30% of negatives turn out to be erroneous.) Shortages in testing kits and laboratory capacity remain a very real challenge, so CDC recommends testing only for those who have symptoms. If that’s you, get in touch with your healthcare provider for next steps.

Testing options currently rely on swab or needle:

  • Viral tests are most common and utilize those intimidating long swabs to collect a sample from your respiratory system through your nose. After your sample has been collected, molecular testing looks for the virus’s genetic material. This kind of test diagnoses an active infection.
  • Antibody tests examine blood samples to identify the proteins that fight infections. If coronavirus antibodies are in your blood, you’ve had the disease. An antibody test is used only to diagnose previous infections. So far, researchers aren’t sure that immunity results from an infection. It’s possible you can be re-infected.

FDA recently approved at-home viral testing kits that rely on saliva or nasal samples. That makes things easier for the patient, although there may be some issues with keeping the materials sterile and the samples intact. The greatest concern, though, is that these samples still need to be sent to a lab for analysis, and labs are swamped with samples right now.

If you fall into one of the CDC’s high-priority categories, a test may be in order. Otherwise, the best advice is to assume you have the virus even if you’re pretty sure you don’t—and act accordingly to keep others safe.