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What you need to know about COVID-19 testing options

  • Antibody COVID-19 test

    Antibody testing shows a medical professional that a patient has already had COVID-19, which can be useful in a direct way if patients are experiencing enduring symptoms or aftereffects caused by lung impairment. It can also help connect the dots for contact tracers and scientists trying to better understand the spread of the virus. Many patients will experience only mild symptoms that don’t necessarily need to be diagnosed in real time. The Red Cross has started testing all blood donors for antibodies.

  • What the antibody test feels like

    Testing for antibodies involves a quick, very small blood draw and can take as little as 15 minutes, according to the Palm Springs Desert Sun. It’s more like a finger stick for a blood-sugar test, with just a drop of blood placed onto the testing material.

  • Antibody test accuracy

    Antibody tests are fairly accurate, but researchers are less certain overall what the information about antibodies tells us, especially depending on when the test is conducted. These tests are not a substitute for a molecular test for an active COVID-19 infection. FDA research has also suggested that people who have had COVID-19 may lose their antibodies after a certain point.

  • Abbott Core Laboratory

    Abbott Labs is a mainstay of pharmaceutical chemistry in the U.S., and they’ve had four kinds of tests authorized for use in the COVID-19 pandemic. Their latest antibody test, they say, is 99.6% effective in detecting one kind of COVID-19 antibody.

  • Roche Diagnostics

    Roche Diagnostics has partnered with LabCorp to produce its “highly accurate” antibody test. Like other manufacturers, they emphasize that antibody tests only indicate past infection—they don’t suggest anything about a patient’s ability to contract the virus again.

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  • Interpreting antibody test results

    Antibodies are a good indicator of what has already happened, but scientists don’t yet understand the role they play in a patient’s future. That means clinicians can identify many patients who have had COVID-19, including filling in gaps for contact tracers and helping to explain spikes following large gatherings. In the future, scientists may better understand whether having antibodies makes patients more likely to resist a second or subsequent infection.

  • What to do if you test positive

    If you receive a positive test result for COVID-19, the most important thing to do right away is to minimize any exposure to other people, according to the Washington State Department of Health, and your family members or anyone else you’ve come into contact with should be tested. Your symptoms may stay very mild—or you may be one of the lucky people who never experiences symptoms—but severity of symptoms doesn’t affect how contagious you are. If you have symptoms, call your doctor and ask if your symptoms are of the kind or severity that warrants a trip to the hospital or other treatment.

  • Contact tracing

    Contact tracing is one of the most effective tools we have to understand and minimize the spread of a virus like COVID-19. Patients can do this themselves by making lists of who they’ve seen and potentially exposed, and then notifying those people. Many states have professional contact tracers who are helping to do this work on a larger scale.

  • When to get tested again

    Plenty of people should be tested more than once during the course of the pandemic. The largest group is those still working in customer-facing jobs, including the many people who work in health care every day, but many businesses are only open on the condition that their workers stay safe and healthy. Regular preemptive testing helps to ensure this, so if you have new symptoms that match COVID-19, even if you’ve previously tested negative, get tested again.

  • Interpreting testing data for your community

    Trying to put COVID-19 data in context is difficult anyway, but the pandemic is frightening and personal, and this information all hits very close to home. Right now, the rates of positive tests are falling in some places, but not because the number of overall cases is significantly falling—it’s because more people are finally able to be tested, period.

    That means doing more preemptive testing to ensure workplaces are safe rather than simply testing sick people to see if they have COVID-19. Your state’s individual data will show how many new confirmed cases there are each day, and you can use this information to decide how to make decisions. There’s no guarantee that any specific person will have the “milder” version of COVID-19, and the best bet is still to stay home as much as you can.

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