COVID-19 Testing Overview

While not foolproof, testing is an important tool to help each country, state, and region safely re-open. The data shows us that countries most successful at keeping down the numbers of COVID-19 infections and deaths have applied testing, contact tracing, and robust preventive practices. Together, these measures can help guide us to return, step by step, toward some normalcy in our economic and social lives. The use of testing coupled with key preventive approaches can also help avoid a second surge of millions of additional COVID-19 cases and 100,000s of deaths.

While there are new approaches coming soon, viral testing is generally performed via nasal swab. The sample is sent to the laboratory where a polymerase chain reaction through what’s called (PCR) test is performed to detect genetic material of the virus itself. Contact tracing involves a process to notify those who have been in contact with someone who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Contact tracing can also be applied for those who have been exposed to someone who has typical COVID-19 symptoms, but doesn’t get tested and, therefore, carries a presumed COVID-19 diagnosis. Antibody testing (also called serologic testing) is a blood test that checks whether someone has developed immunity to (protection from) COVID-19 at least temporarily. While the antibodies may not be present forever, or the COVID-19 virus might mutate (change) over time, there is scientific evidence suggesting that characteristics of the virus allow for antibodies, if they develop, to help fend off reinfection for a period of time — possibly up to 1 to 3 years. Since COVID-19 is newly discovered and hasn’t been infecting people for very long, more research will emerge as the virus is further studied and better understood.

The amount of testing being conducted varies from country to country, and from state to state. This impacts steps taken in the opening of regions across the globe. Interestingly, there is a form of testing that is talked about less often but may also be applied to guide recovery: Fecal Testing.

Swab Testing

Using a long swab that is mildly uncomfortable when placed through your nasal passages, the clinician (e.g. nurse, doctor, or physician assistant) performing the test (wearing protective equipment or PPE) will twist the swab for 10 to 15 seconds (roughly 5 times) in order to get an adequate sample for the lab to look for the COVID-19 virus under the microscope.

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