When to get tested for COVID-19.

If you’ve been exposed to someone who has COVID-19, you should definitely self-quarantine for 14 days. And if symptoms do appear, contact your doctor to discuss getting tested.

There are two main types of COVID tests. The viral (PCR-based) test tells you if you have COVID right now. The viral test is very reliable in people with symptoms. For people who get sick with COVID-19, symptoms tend to appear 2-14 days after exposure, with most people getting sick around days 4 to 6.

If you don’t have symptoms and still want to be tested, getting tested between 4 and 7 days post-exposure should be about right for the majority of infected people. If you get tested any sooner, you probably won’t have enough virus in your body to show up on a test. 

However, getting tested just once doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. This first test will miss infections that develop a bit later after you were exposed. Ideally, exposed people who do not have symptoms and had one negative test should get tested again about 4-5 days after their first test, just to be safe. But, it might not be possible to be tested more than once due to local testing availability and delays in getting test results. Ask your local health department or healthcare provider for guidance.

That’s why, even if you test negative, you should self-quarantine for a full 14 days after being exposed to an infected person.


Last update: August 2, 2020, 9:00 pm ET
Science review: ERS, JAB