Coronavirus testing: How long does it take to get test results for COVID-19? – CNET

It may take more than a week to get your coronavirus test results back.

James Martin/CNET

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

As coronavirus cases spike throughout the US, the need for testing is also on the rise. However, many cities across the country are experiencing a critical shortage of tests and limiting who can be tested as a way to manage the lower-than-hoped-for supply. At the same time, other states are making it easier to get coronavirus tests.

As a result, testing continues to be an uneven experience, from who can get a COVID-19 test to the ease of finding a testing site in your area, and even how long the test results take to come in.

In most cases, your doctor should let you know a time frame for getting your coronavirus results back, but that can vary from hours to even a week or longer. Here’s what we know about how long it takes to get tested and how to find out your results.


There are drive-through locations for coronavirus testing.

James Martin/CNET

When can I get a COVID-19 test?

As more tests become available, finding a testing site near you may be easier. Some areas have drop-in testing centers where you can walk up. Others may require a doctor’s order and an appointment with a testing facility, a measure that could help keep crowds of people waiting to be tested from gathering and overwhelming the testing site and staff. Contact your local testing center to get a sense of what to expect. It’s likely you will need to wear a face mask to get tested.

If you’re a high-risk patient or experiencing severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing, you should seek medical attention immediately. Call your doctor for a referral to a testing clinic in your area. 

What is the coronavirus test like?

If you’re not taking an at-home test, when you go to get screened for the coronavirus you’ll either be directed to a clinic or to a drive-through testing site. If you’re waiting in a medical facility, it’s recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that you wear a face covering to prevent spreading the virus to others. Note that many facilities may require you to wear a face mask.

One common type of testing for COVID-19 today is a nose swab that’s similar to screening for other flu viruses. In the earliest COVID-19 nasal tests, the doctor would swab the inside of your nose for several seconds with a long, single-use tool that looks like a giant Q-Tip and reached the upper part of the throat. Lately, tests seem to gravitate toward a nasal swab in one or both nostrils with a shorter range. 

Antibody testing, which requires a blood sample, is also becoming increasingly available. That test works like other blood draws, where a medical professional sterilizes your arm (usually around the inner elbow crease,) inserts a needle into your vein and takes a small sample of blood.

Regardless of how you’re tested, the sample is sealed and sent to a laboratory to determine if you have COVID-19.

Read more: Need a pulse oximeter? These models are in stock starting at $24

When will I get my COVID-19 test results?

In theory, it takes only a few hours or less for the lab to determine if you’ve acquired the coronavirus. But depending on where you live, it can take up to a week or more to get your results back. It also depends on how many tests have been administered in your location. 

The Trump administration has ramped up testing in three hard-hit states, Texas, Florida, and Louisiana. In any area where mass amounts of people are being tested for COVID-19, backups at processing facilities could lead to a longer wait time for results.

Tennessee’s governor, Bill Lee, announced in April that anyone in the state could be tested for free. However, 312 Nashville residents who were tested at the beginning of June weren’t told for weeks that they had coronavirus.

In Kentucky, Norton originally said test results would take longer than anticipated because of increased testing nationwide, but now says the results will be delivered within three to five days.

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The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio said patients in the hospital who are very ill or high risk typically receive their results within 24 hours. Patients who are tested at a drive-through facility, however, get their results back within a few days.

Once your results are available, your doctor will contact you to let you know if you’ve tested positive or negative for COVID-19. 

What if I test positive for the coronavirus?

If results show that you’ve been infected with COVID-19, make sure to let everyone you’ve come in close contact with in the last two weeks know. Ask your doctor for the next steps and continue to isolate yourself at home. 

Contact tracing, which is a system that helps identify people you’ve come into close contact with, can help stem the spread to others. We also have some guidelines for taking care of yourself if you’re infected with the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say you can leave the house again once you’ve had no fever for at least 72 hours (without medicine), symptoms like coughing have improved and at least 10 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared, but you should seek guidance from your doctor on when it’s safe to leave the house.

For more information on coronavirus testing, here’s how to find a coronavirus testing site near you and check wait times, who qualifies for COVID-19 testing and what you need to know about a coronavirus home testing kit.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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