COVID-19 Testing FAQs for Community Members

Answers to common questions to help you figure out what’s true about COVID-19 and what’s not, especially when it comes to testing

Office of Community Health Equity and Engagement News December 15, 2020
Rush COVID-19 testing drive thru

It can feel overwhelming and confusing trying to figure out what’s true about COVID-19 and what’s not, especially when it comes to testing. As scientists learn more about the disease and safety guidelines change, it’s also hard to know if what you are doing is right. To address some of these concerns, we have compiled a list of some of the most common questions and answers about COVID-19 testing.

If I receive a COVID-19 test, is it possible to get COVID-19 from the test?

No, you cannot develop COVID-19 from a nasal or throat swab test itself. COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus, which is spread through droplets of fluid scattered in the air when an infected individual coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breathes. Inhaling these droplets can cause infection, and this is the main way COVID-19 is believed to be spread. However, it is also possible to become infected if you touch a surface that has the coronavirus on it and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

The best way to prevent yourself from getting the virus is to follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Wear a mask in public and around people not in your household.
  • Adhere to social distancing guidelines.
  • Clean surfaces with disinfectant frequently.

Should I isolate while I’m waiting for my test results?

Yes, while you wait for your test results, you should remain quarantined at home and monitor yourself for any symptoms of COVID-19.

How do I get my test results if I haven’t received them yet?

If you have not received your results within the window of time given when you took your test, you can call the general Rush University Medical Center phone number at (888) 352-7874. A representative will be able to connect you with a COVID-19 nurse in the Nursing Department who will be able to provide you with your test results.

If I’m positive, will someone call me and tell me what to do?

If you test positive for COVID-19, the Nursing Department at Rush will call to notify you of your result and the next steps to take including isolating at home until you are fully recovered. More information can be found on our website.

What if I can’t isolate at home away from my family or others? Where can I go?

The city of Chicago has isolation facilities available for people who are positive for COVID-19 and cannot isolate safely in their own homes.* The facilities provide a clean space for recovery and three meals a day all at no cost.

For those who do not need care from a doctor or health care professional, there are private hotel rooms available where you will receive complementary check-ins from nursing staff, TV and Wi-Fi. There are also group Supported Isolation Facilities where people who may require additional medical care for pre-existing conditions or behavioral health needs can receive care during their recovery.

*Note: The Chicago COVID-19 Isolation Facilities program is only for people with mild cases of COVID-19. If you require hospitalization or have a severe case of COVID-19 you will not be eligible for this program.

If I test negative, how long am I safe from the virus

A negative test only means that you were likely not infected with the virus at the time you took your test. A negative test one day does not rule out the possibility of testing positive at a later date.

Although negative results are quite accurate, it does not guarantee that you do not have the virus. It is unlikely, but possible, that you could receive a false negative. Or if you contract the coronavirus close to the date of your test, then the virus may not be detected, and your result will be negative. A negative result also does not mean you are immune to the virus nor that you will not get sick.

What if someone I’ve been around tells me they tested positive? What should I do? When should I get tested?

If you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, then you have been exposed to the virus. Close contact is defined as being within 6 feet of someone who is positive for COVID-19 for a sum total of 15 minutes over 24 hours. Exposure can occur both indoors and outdoors even with a mask on.

It is important that if you have been exposed, you both get tested and quarantine for 14 days, even if you do not have any symptoms.

People with COVID-19 may not have symptoms but can still spread the virus to others. Additionally, if a medical professional asks you to enter a 14-day quarantine because of exposure to COVID-19, a negative test does not get you out of quarantine.

What if a family member tests positive?

If a family member tests positive, it is important that they are separated from other members of the household and isolate immediately. They should stay in a separate room and use a separate bathroom if available. Masks should be worn when around anyone who is sick. Be sure to monitor family members for any symptoms or ones that get worse.

It is critical, especially when complete isolation is not possible, that all shared surfaces including tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, remote controls, toilets, faucets and sinks are continuously disinfected.

Disinfectants can include:

  • Diluted household bleach
  • Alcohol solutions that contain at least 70% alcohol
  • Any EPA-registered household disinfectant

Regardless of how often you disinfect surfaces, you must also wash your hands often using soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol will also work.

Why should I not just get a rapid test if I get my results quicker?

While it is true that a rapid test typically returns results the same day, it is very different from a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or nasal swab test. A rapid test is an antigen test, which means it looks for molecules on the surface of the virus. Although it is accurate for positive results, studies suggest it is much less accurate for negative ones.

Rapid antigen tests have been known to deliver some false negatives and are thought to be around 80% accurate compared to the nasal swab test, which is generally accepted as a more accurate option overall.

How do I know if I’m at risk for contracting the coronavirus?

Besides being in close contact with someone who tested positive, there are activities and locations that put you at greater risk of catching COVID-19. Specifically, any indoor activities such as dining in at restaurants, working out in a gym or going to a bar put you at increased risk for contracting the coronavirus.

The following groups are also at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19:

  • People over the age of 65 years old
  • Those living in a nursing home
  • Individuals with high-risk conditions including:
    • Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
    • Serious heart conditions
    • The immunocompromised including cancer treatment
    • Severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] >40) or certain underlying medical conditions, particularly if not well controlled, such as diabetes, renal failure or liver disease
  • Those who are pregnant

For more information or other frequently asked questions, check please visit Rush’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs page.

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