Where do I get a test?
Many places are offering coronavirus tests, including some hospitals, urgent care clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices. Some churches and fire stations are offering testing, too. Airlines like Hawaiian Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue and American Airlines are offering testing at the airport or at nearby drive-through sites for passengers heading to certain destinations. Some airports have clinics in terminals. Companies, including CareCube and Pixel by LabCorp, will mail a test to you and you send back a sample; they promise to send you your results within 12 to 34 hours and 36 hours, respectively. JetBlue has a partnership with Vault Health for mail-in tests.
It’s a good idea to start by reaching out to your doctor’s office to see what all the available options for testing are and how long it will take to get results. If you don’t have a primary care provider, a good place to start is on city and state health department websites, which outline the various testing options and locations.
I have a trip coming up. When should I take my test?
You should get a coronavirus test before you travel. Figuring out the exact time can be tricky, but you can’t wait too long to take the test because you might not get the results back in time to go on your trip.
For those reasons, many destinations, including France, Aruba, Bonaire, Puerto Rico and Hawaii, require that the test be taken within 72 hours of departure. Abu Dhabi and Croatia require test results are within 48 hours of departure. Some airlines, like Egypt Air, allow travelers to use results from a test taken up to 96 hours before traveling, depending on where they are traveling from and to.
Confused by the terms about coronavirus testing? Let us help:
- Antibody: A protein produced by the immune system that can recognize and attach precisely to specific kinds of viruses, bacteria, or other invaders.
- Antibody test/serology test: A test that detects antibodies specific to the coronavirus. Antibodies begin to appear in the blood about a week after the coronavirus has infected the body. Because antibodies take so long to develop, an antibody test can’t reliably diagnose an ongoing infection. But it can identify people who have been exposed to the coronavirus in the past.
- Antigen test: This test detects bits of coronavirus proteins called antigens. Antigen tests are fast, taking as little as five minutes, but are less accurate than tests that detect genetic material from the virus.
- Coronavirus: Any virus that belongs to the Orthocoronavirinae family of viruses. The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is known as SARS-CoV-2.
- Covid-19: The disease caused by the new coronavirus. The name is short for coronavirus disease 2019.
- Isolation and quarantine: Isolation is the separation of people who know they are sick with a contagious disease from those who are not sick. Quarantine refers to restricting the movement of people who have been exposed to a virus.
- Nasopharyngeal swab: A long, flexible stick, tipped with a soft swab, that is inserted deep into the nose to get samples from the space where the nasal cavity meets the throat. Samples for coronavirus tests can also be collected with swabs that do not go as deep into the nose — sometimes called nasal swabs — or oral or throat swabs.
- Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): Scientists use PCR to make millions of copies of genetic material in a sample. Tests that use PCR enable researchers to detect the coronavirus even when it is scarce.
- Viral load: The amount of virus in a person’s body. In people infected by the coronavirus, the viral load may peak before they start to show symptoms, if symptoms appear at all.
You can walk into a testing site, but it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment and to not wait until the last minute to get the test.
How long does it take to get test results back?
If you’re taking a test because you’re getting ready to go on a trip, you should look for test providers who will get results back to you within 36 hours, so that you have your results by the time you leave for your trip. Keep in mind that different tests will come with different wait times for results. Rapid tests typically return results in less than an hour, and results from PCR tests tend to take a few days because samples have to be sent to a lab.
There’s always a chance that your results won’t arrive in time, so try to be flexible with your travel plans.