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COVID-19 Viral Test: About This Test

What is it?

A COVID-19 viral test (also called a COVID-19 nucleic acid test) is a way to find out if you have COVID-19. The test looks for the genetic material of the virus in samples (such as swabs) taken from your nose or throat (breathing passages).

Why is it done?

This test is used to diagnose a current infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Knowing that you have the virus means that you can take steps to protect others from getting infected. This can help limit the spread of the virus.

Knowing who has COVID-19 is also important for experts who track the virus. It can help them learn more about how the virus spreads.

How do you prepare for the test?

You don't need to do anything to prepare for this test. But be sure to follow any instructions your healthcare provider gives you.

How is it done?

The test is most often done on a sample from your nose or throat. A sample is usually collected by putting a long swab into the back of your nose or throat.

What do your results mean?

The result is either positive or negative.

A positive result means that the genetic material of the virus was found in your sample. You have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

A negative result means that the genetic material was not found. This may mean that you don't have COVID-19. But it's possible to get a false-negative result. This means that the test shows that you don't have COVID-19 when in fact you do. This can happen because:

  • You were tested too early (before the virus got to high enough levels in your nose and throat).
  • You were tested too late (after your immune system fought off the virus).
  • The swab did not reach the infected area.
Because false negative results sometimes happen, you should continue isolating if you have symptoms and follow all public health measures. If you are a close contact of someone who has COVID-19, you must continue to isolate, even if you have a negative result.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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