What’s it like to get a COVID-19 test?

Most tests for the novel coronavirus use a nasopharyngeal swab. The swab is basically a big Q-tip. The swab is stuck in your nose, all the way back to the nasopharynx–roughly the same zip code as your tonsils. The swab is removed while being rotated, improving the chances of finding the virus if it’s there. Then the same thing is usually done in the other nostril. Finally, the swab–now covered in a mix of the secretions (snot) and cells–is placed in a sterile tube and sent off to the lab! 

Although it’s not a pleasant sensation, it should take less than 10 seconds from start to finish. Blowing your nose into a tissue afterwards helps. If you are unable to tolerate a swab up your nose, sometimes the back of your throat can be swabbed instead. But this is not as reliable for finding the virus.


Nasopharyngeal Swab Collection. CDC

Last update: 4/19/2020 at 10:54pm ET
Science review: JAB, ERS