When the national shutdown was announced in March, people seemed to panic and believe almost every source that covered the virus. In addition to wearing masks and staying home when possible, getting tested for the virus is one of the most important things that you can do before interacting with anyone outside of your household. In the beginning, testing was generally reserved for individuals who were experiencing symptoms, as there were no clear guidelines on what to test for yet, but now the medical community and the Food and Drug Administration have gotten an idea of what the testing process is like.
What kinds of tests are there? How do they work?
Most of the testing available in the U.S. is referred to as a PCR test. According to an article on The Wall Street Journal's website, the test searches for genetic material left by the virus in nasal swabs or saliva samples. Typically, medical personnel will swab the inside of your nose or cheek or ask you to spit into a tube. Antigen tests look for proteins instead of genetic codes, so that they can be used at nursing homes and other settings where large groups of people need quick testing.
You can get tested at drive-thru locations listed in your area, pharmacies, or even doctor's offices. Because of how quickly the virus can spread, many businesses are mandating that their employees be tested, and schools are requiring students be tested before returning to campus.
The waiting period after getting tested is one of the hardest times to go through. It can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a week or more to get your results from a PCR test, depending on where you go to get tested and the demand for testing at the time.
Antigen testing works a little differently because of how quickly it gives results. Because these tests look for proteins instead of genetic material, they are usually only offered to people who have symptoms or who know that they've been in contact with someone who was infected. To compare the way that antigen tests work with something similar that most people would be familiar with, think of a home pregnancy test. Since the two types of Covid tests look for different things, it is also said that antigen tests are not as accurate as the PCR tests and could potentially deliver a false negative.
If you are exposed to the virus or are exhibiting symptoms, both tests could be free or paid for by your insurance. However, if you are getting tested as a precaution and don't have insurance, the PCR tests run anywhere from $60-$300, and the antigen tests can range from $25 to over $100. However, many testing sites offer free testing in New Orleans, so do your research before you go.
The deeper nasal PCR tests are said to be uncomfortable or painful, while the regular nasal swabs tend to be momentarily discomforting, since they cause people to sneeze. Saliva samples are thought of to be the most innocuous, since they are the least invasive. When considering getting tested, check all available information or ask your healthcare provider, to know what to prepare yourself for.
How do I handle my results?
The results are probably the most important part of testing, and the waiting game for them is no joke. While waiting for results, it is incredibly important to follow all social-distancing guidelines, wear a mask, and stay home as much as possible. Testing is done at a single moment, so it is always possible that it may not detect an infection. Even if you do receive a negative test result, you should continue to follow all protective measures. Wash your hands frequently, even if you don't think you need to.