Symptoms and testing
Call your doctor
If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and develop a fever and symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, call your healthcare provider for medical advice.
Not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19. For information about testing, see Testing for COVID-19.
The process and locations for testing vary from place to place. Contact your state, local, tribal, or territorial department for more information, or reach out to a medical provider. State and local public health departments have received tests from CDC while medical providers are getting tests developed by commercial manufacturers. While supplies of these tests are increasing, it may still be difficult to find someplace to get tested. See Testing for COVID-19 for more information.
To be tested for COVID-19, a sample is typically collected from your nose and/or throat with a special swab at a designated collection location staffed by health care professionals. Currently, a health care professional swabbing the back of the nasal cavity through the nostril is the preferred choice. Alternatively, the health care professional could may swab the back of your throat, or for patients with symptoms of COVID-19 the sample could may be collected by swabbing the inside of the front of the nose. Depending on, among other things, the type of swab used, a health care professional may collect the sample, or you may be able to collect the sample yourself at the collection site under the supervision of health care personnel.
At this time, the FDA does not recommend using laboratory tests to screen blood. Someone who has symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath, is not healthy enough to donate blood. Standard screening processes already in place will mean that someone with these symptoms will not be allowed to donate.
At this time, the FDA has not authorized any COVID-19 test to be completely used and processed at home. However, on April 20, 2020, the FDA authorized the first COVID-19 test for home collection of samples to be sent to a laboratory for processing and test reporting. Please note that this authorization is specific only to the home collection test that has been issued the authorized EUA (LabCorp’s COVID-19 RT-PCR Test). Any COVID-19 test intended for at-home testing, including self-collection of a sample at home, with or without the use of telemedicine, requires an authorized EUA. The FDA sees the public health value in expanding the availability of COVID-19 testing through safe and accurate tests that may include home collection, and we are actively working with test developers in this space. You can find listings of tests that have received an authorized EUA on the Emergency Use Authorizations page.
The FDA is supportive of at-home testing for COVID-19 provided there is data and science to support consumer safety and test accuracy. We are actively working with developers in this space and will continue to authorize EUAs for tests that demonstrate appropriate validation. Home collection raises several issues of importance, including whether the sample can be safely and properly collected, whether the components of the test kit are safe for use in the home environment (since some components may be toxic), proper shipment, and stability of the sample given the time lapse between collection and testing (such as, if the sample sits in a hot truck). A physician watching the collection via telemedicine may address the issue of sample collection (if the self-collection method does not raise safety concerns), but it does not address these other issues.
Antibody tests cannot be used alone to rule out COVID-19. However, they can serve an important role. Using antibody tests on many patients may help the medical community better understand the immune response in patients over time and how many people may have been infected. In the future, it is also possible that they may also be used to help determine, together with other clinical data, that some individuals are no longer susceptible to infection. In addition, these test results can aid in determining who may donate a part of their blood called convalescent plasma, which may serve as a possible treatment for those who are seriously ill from COVID-19.
People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. People with these symptoms or combinations of symptoms may have COVID-19:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Or at least two of these symptoms:
- Repeated shaking with chills
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- New loss of taste or smell
This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.
Read about COVID-19 Symptoms
Using the CDC-developed diagnostic test, a negative result means that the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in the person’s sample. In the early stages of infection, it is possible the virus will not be detected.
For COVID-19, a negative test result for a sample collected while a person has symptoms likely means that the COVID-19 virus is not causing their current illness.
CDC and partners are investigating to determine if you can get sick with COVID-19 more than once. At this time, we are not sure if you can become re-infected. Until we know more, continue to take steps to protect yourself and others.
There are actually many tests being used to diagnose COVID-19 that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized for use during the current emergency. All of these diagnostic tests identify the virus in samples from the respiratory system, such as from nasal or nasopharyngeal swabs. Some tests are conducted at the testing site you visit, and results are available to you within minutes. Other tests must be sent to a laboratory to analyze, a process that takes 1-2 days once the lab receives your samples.
Locations and types of testing sites vary depending on where you live (see question: Where can I get tested). Check with your testing site to learn which test it uses. You can find a patient information sheet about each test on the FDA.
In the coming weeks, healthcare providers in most states will begin offering home collection kits, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized for use during the current emergency. A healthcare provider will need to give you the approved kit – the Pixel by LabCorp COVID-19 test home collection kit. You will be able to collect your sample (a nasal swab) at home and then send your sample to a laboratory for analysis.
For more information please see FDA’s most recent press release.
Antibody testing checks a sample of a person’s blood to look for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These antibodies are produced when someone has been infected, so a positive result from this test indicates that person was previously infected with the virus.
CDC is working with other federal agencies to evaluate the performance of commercially manufactured antibody tests that are becoming increasingly available from healthcare providers. This evaluation is expected to be completed in early May.
We do not know yet if the antibodies that result from infection with SARS-CoV-2 can protect someone from reinfection with this virus (immunity) or how long antibodies to the virus will protect someone. Scientists are conducting research to answer those questions.
Antibody tests may not be able to tell you if you are currently infected because it typically takes 1 to 3 weeks to develop antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. To tell if you are currently infected, you would need a test that identifies the virus in samples from your upper respiratory system, such as a nasopharyngeal swab.