Getting a COVID Test
As the COVID vaccine reduces the number of cases in the United States, the need for COVID testing, at least for some people, may decline as well.
However, testing for COVID is still an important part of keeping the virus in check.
As we move into the latest phase of the pandemic, learn more about
Perhaps the most important distinction between COVID tests is whether they are diagnostic (sometimes called viral) tests or antibody tests (also called serological) tests.
Antibody COVID Test
These blood tests, often done with a finger stick, detect antibodies that your immune system makes to fight COVID19. But they can only indicate if you have had a past infection, not if you are currently infected.
Diagnostic COVID Test
Diagnostic COVID tests look for the presence of an active COVID infection. Typically they are performed by swabbing the inside of the nose. There are two commonly used types of diagnostic tests:
- PCR or NAAT tests can detect very small amounts of a virus that other tests can miss. These are typically performed in a medical setting, and the results are usually available in 1-2 days.
- Antigen tests look for the presence of the protein markers associated with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). They are not as accurate as PCR tests and are often used when screening people with or without symptoms. Their results are typically available within 30 minutes. In-home tests are antigen tests.
Coronavirus testing is done at a wide range of places throughout Maryland, including these UMMS locations.
Also, the Maryland Department of Health COVID Test Finder allows you to screen for tests by:
- Rapid screening
- Appointment not required
- Pediatric testing
- Online scheduling
The answer to that question depends on:
- Your reason for being tested
- Whether you are fully vaccinated against the virus
- Who is asking you to be tested
Read about the various reasons you might want a COVID test:
Reasons to Get a COVID Test
Keep in mind that you are not fully vaccinated until two weeks after your final dose of the vaccine, whether you get a one- or two-dose vaccine. But even if you are fully vaccinated it is possible that you could get the virus and spread it to others.
If you are not vaccinated and you have symptoms of the coronavirus, you should get a test and stay home and away from others.
Call ahead to the testing location if possible to let them know you are symptomatic because many test providers may have different procedures for people with symptoms.
If you are fully vaccinated and you have symptoms of the coronavirus, you should get a test and stay home and away from others.
Exposure to COVID-19
If you are not vaccinated and you are exposed to someone who has the virus, regardless of whether you have symptoms, you will need to get a test and follow the Centers for Disease Control's guidelines for exposure to the virus for unvaccinated people.
If you are fully vaccinated and you are exposed to someone who has the virus, you do not need to get a test or stay home unless you have symptoms.
Some workplaces and other organizations have routinely tested people who don't have symptoms for COVID.
If you are not vaccinated, you will need to continue to participate in this COVID testing.
If you are fully vaccinated, you may not need to get routine workplace testing. The CDC has said people who are vaccinated can be excluded from this type of routine testing. However, companies are not required to exclude them, so it will likely depend on your employer.
COVID Testing for Travel in the United States
If you are not vaccinated, get a viral test one to two days before your trip. Then when you return, you will need to get tested again within three to five days. In addition, you will need to stay home and quarantine for a full week, even if your test is negative.
If you are fully vaccinated, you do not need to test before or after travel, if you don't have symptoms. You do not need to quarantine either, but you should monitor for symptoms.
COVID Testing for International Travel
The CDC recommends that you should not travel outside the United States if you are not vaccinated.
For travel outside the United States, you should carefully research the requirements at your destination (both the country and the local region) in advance and again right before you leave, as they may change without notice.
- Require a negative COVID test within a certain time period (often 72 hours) to enter the country.
- Have a specific type of test required. Antibody tests are not accepted. There also may be a specific type of diagnostic test required, or in-home tests or rapid may not be allowed.
- May or may not take into account your vaccination status when it comes to testing.
To return to the United States, as of June 2021, all international air travelers are required to have a negative viral COVID test three days before their departure.
So make arrangements in advance to be sure you meet that requirement. Also please see the CDC's international travel testing guidance before you go for the most up-to-date information about travel testing.
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