Illustration of coronavirus

As the state of Maryland's capacity for conducting coronavirus testing expands, people with coronavirus symptoms and, in some cases, those without can be tested for active COVID-19 disease.

University of Maryland Medical System currently reserves outpatient testing for those who have symptoms because it is the most effective way to use the tests available.

Getting Tested for COVID

In most cases, a doctor's order is still required to get testing. At only a few state testing sites, including some of Maryland's drive-through testing sites, a provider's order is not required, and patients do not have to have symptoms.

To get a coronavirus test at other facilities, including all University of Maryland Medical System facilities, a doctor's order is required. Find an UMMS coronavirus testing location.

Call your doctor BEFORE going to the doctor's office, ER or urgent care center, to let them know your symptoms.

What to Do If:

You don't have a primary care doctor. You can contact your city or county health department for advice, or call the UMMS Nurse Call Line, a free 24/7 phone service to answer questions from the community about coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

You have mild symptoms. Coronavirus can be treated at home. Stay home, contact your doctor, monitor your health, and avoid transmission to the rest of your household.

You are at risk because of your age or underlying conditions. Be sure to contact your doctor.

You are having severe symptoms – difficulty breathing, pain or persistent pressure in your chest, or bluish lips or face. Don't waste time trying to get a test. Call 911 or go to the nearest hospital ER or urgent care center.

Symptomatic and Asymptomatic Testing

It is possible to transmit coronavirus even if you are not symptomatic, so everyone should take precautions to avoid spreading the virus. However, it is most contagious when people have symptoms.

"Symptomatic persons have more virus in their respiratory tract than those who are not symptomatic. Also, their coughing and sneezing releases droplets in the air around them, on surfaces and on their hands, which makes them more contagious than someone with no symptoms," says Gregory M. Schrank, MD, an infectious disease specialist who is co-chair of the COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Committee for the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore..

In the early stages of infection, before symptoms appear, it is possible the virus will not be detected by a test, according to the CDC, so a negative test might provide a false sense of security.

If You Are Well, but Worried

If you don't have symptoms, but are worried about getting sick, the best advice is to follow guidelines for social distancing, wash your hands often for a full 20 seconds with soap and water, use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available, and avoid touching your face. Those precautions will help you avoid getting sick more than a test would, says Dr. Schrank.

"Also remember that about 80 percent of cases are mild and people will recover on their own," he says.

People who are at higher risk – those age 70 or older, or with diabetes, heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – should monitor their health closely and contact their primary care practitioners with any concerns, Dr. Schrank says.

Drive-Up Coronavirus Testing

Drive-up sites continue to be a good model for testing those with a doctor's order, Dr. Shrank says. It limits the risk of transmission to and from other patients (compared to being inside a crowded medical office and emergency room) and keeps health care providers safer while still allowing them to swab the patient's nose or throat for a sample, take vital signs and observe patients for potential signs of serious illness.

"It's very understandable to have anxiety and stress about coronavirus," Dr. Schrank says. "But if you're worried at all, remember the best way to prevent infection of any kind is with frequent hand-washing, use of hand sanitizer and social distancing."