Testing for COVID-19

Testing for COVID-19 | Dr. Ali Ghahary

When COVID-19 was first on our radar, only those who had become severely ill or individuals who were close contacts of those already diagnosed with the virus (such as family members or healthcare workers) were being tested for it – and while protocols for testing for the virus vary from province to province, state to state, and country to country, health officials right here in British Columbia are now recommending that anyone who is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 (such as a high fever and/or a dry cough), in addition to those experiencing even the mildest flu or cold-like symptoms (such as a sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches and fatigue), all be tested for the virus. The thought behind British Columbia expanding testing for COVID-19 is to further prevent community spread – as when new cases of COVID-19 are found within a community, more can be done to contain and prevent the spread of those outbreaks. However, it’s important to note that while everyone can now be tested for the virus, that doesn’t mean that everyone needs to be tested – meaning if you are in good health and not experiencing any signs or symptoms of illness, you would not benefit from having a test done. Furthermore, if someone were to be tested who is in the very early stages of infection (i.e. not yet exhibiting symptoms), there’s also a strong likelihood (as high as 30%) that the test would come back as a false-negative.

As for how you go about getting tested, there are a few different ways of doing so. Firstly, if you think you might have COVID-19, or if you’re experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms, then you need to speak with your healthcare provider. However, to prevent potential spread, you should not go directly to their office. Instead, you should call them by telephone and explain the symptoms that you are experiencing to their reception/staff. From there, they will determine the next steps you need to take and you will even likely be able to speak to a physician via telephone (as most medical clinics are now offering tele-health appointments.) In cases where you have an extremely high fever and difficulty breathing, you should always call 911. Once you have been assessed over the telephone, you will likely need to do one of the following: Rest and self-isolate for up to 10 days while keeping a close eye on your symptoms – or, be tested for COVID-19.

If your doctor has recommended that you be tested for COVID-19, they will either be able to book an appointment for you at your nearest testing centre. (You can also use the self-assessment tool to help determine whether or not you’re a candidate for testing. This self-assessment tool can be found via http://bc.thrive.health. You can also access the self-assessment tool by downloading the BC COVID-19 app on your smartphone via the Apple or Google Play stores. This can be a particularly useful tool if you don’t have a family physician or are unable to connect with one – or even for peace of mind if you’re unsure about your symptoms.)

When you arrive for your test, you will first be assessed by a nurse who will take note of your symptoms as well as ensure your information (such as name, age and birth date) are all correct. Following this, the test will then be administered. The test, which is typically painless (though can be slightly uncomfortable) is done by inserting a thin, q-tip-like swab (similar to a swab that is used to check for strep throat, for example) through the nostril and into the nose cavity where it is then held for approximately 10 to 15 seconds. During this time, the swab is also rotated clockwise and counter-clockwise several times before finally being removed and inserted into a small container, which is then sent off to a lab for further testing. In many cases, your test results will be available 24 hours after the test (sometimes less than that), though the results can also potentially take up to 2 or 3 days, depending on whether or not there is a backlog of tests.

If your test comes back positive, you will need to isolate for up to 14 days or until your symptoms have fully resolved, while also continuing to monitor your symptoms to ensure that they aren’t worsening, and ensure you keep yourself isolate to one room if you live with others (so as to prevent the virus from spreading.) If your test comes back negative, you should also continue to self-isolate until your symptoms have resolved. If you were recently exposed to someone with a case of COVID-19 but your test was also negative, you should self-isolate for 14 days from your last contact with the infected individuals – and, as always, if your symptoms worsen, call 811, your healthcare provider, or 911.