Here’s what to expect if you’re tested for COVID-19

You haven’t been feeling great, and your symptoms align closely with those that indicate that you might be infected with COVID-19: a fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. It may be time to see your family doctor, and get him or her to sign off on the test that will determine if you’ve actually got the virus. What should you expect?

While you’ve heard about all the attempts to get a testing protocol started, you may not know what it entails. Far from having to turn over samples of blood, urine, or spit, experts say you can expect about 10 unpleasant seconds — half the time it takes to wash your hands thoroughly — and no more if you just listen to your doctor and sit still (via USA Today).

The COVID-19 testing process is unpleasant but quick

Patients are asked to sit still while a swab, which looks like a Q-tip, is inserted into the back of their nose to reach the nasopharyngeal region — an area behind your nose and above the top of your mouth where the novel coronavirus likes to hide. The process is uncomfortable, but made less so if you don’t squirm. 

“If you were to open your mouth and say ‘Ahh’ and look straight back, that’s the region, right where the respiratory (tract) meets the back of your mouth. The virus likes to latch on there and start replicating,” immunology Kirsten Hokeness told USA Today.

The sample is then brought to a lab in a sterile container, where a machine isolates the sample’s RNA, and then matches it up with the RNA of the coronavirus. If it is a match, then the sample is positive. From test to result, you can expect to wait between three to four days, although labs are hoping to shorten that time to between 24 to 48 hours.

The number of COVID-19 cases will rise as testing becomes more widespread

While the test is accurate, false negatives can still happen — and that’s usually when swabs are not up to standard, or if mucous somehow obstructs an instrument. Some labs will take two swabs, just in case. “If you’re just getting the COVID-19 test, it’s usually one swab, or sometimes we take one nose swab and one throat swab and put them both in the same vial for testing. Generally, when people have the symptoms, they’ll be getting tested both for the COVID-19 but also for the flu and the other viruses that are still prevalent, at least in the Northeast where we are,” Dwaye Breining, managing director at a New York lab said.

When drive-tru testing kicks off, as it has in South Korea, we will see the number of cases spike, but that should not be a concern. “It means more people have the virus, but the virus may not be as lethal as it was originally described. For the vast majority of people, the upper 90 percent range of people, this will be just like having another upper-respiratory cold, like the common cold or the flu, and they will recover even if no one ever knows they have the COVID-19 illness,” Breining said.

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