Although the risk of COVID-19 is currently considered low in our area and nearly three-quarters of Hampshire County residents are fully vaccinated (MA Dept. of Public Health, 11/14), exposure to the virus is still a real possibility. More than 300 Americans are still dying of COVID-19 every day, and holiday gatherings are likely to increase the number of infections.
That’s why testing for COVID-19 is so important, even if you’re fully vaccinated and consider yourself at low risk.
When to Test
The CDC advises testing if you have any symptoms of COVID, if you have a known exposure to COVID-19, and before you have contact with vulnerable people.
• If you have symptoms, test immediately, and retest even if the initial test is negative. (See https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/safety-communications/home-COVID-19-antigen-tests-take-steps-reduce-your-risk-false-negative-fda-safety-communication
• If you have known exposure but no symptoms, wait five days to test, as it can take that long for an antigen test to reveal a positive result. For more details, see https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html
(Note: This was updated in September 2022.)
Kinds of COVID-19 Tests and How to Get Them
The links above also describe what tests are available and where to get them. There are two basic types: home tests (mostly antigen tests) and sites that perform laboratory tests (mostly PCR or NAAT testing).
Medicare currently pays for eight free tests obtained from your pharmacy every month. You can call or visit your pharmacy with your Medicare # to get these. If you do not have Medicare, most insurers in Massachusetts cover home testing kits also. Contact your insurance company’s customer service for details. If you are uninsured, or if you want to have PCR testing, there are multiple free testing sites in Massachusetts. You can find one here:
Understanding Test Results
Sometimes, it can be confusing to know what a positive or negative antigen or PCR test result actually means.
• Any positive result means you have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. You should follow isolation precautions, and seek treatment (if eligible), as described here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/testing.html
• A negative test result means that the test did not detect the virus. However, you might still have an infection. The following explains false negative results and the value of repeat testing: https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/safety-communications/home-COVID-19-antigen-tests-take-steps-reduce-your-risk-false-negative-fda-safety-communication
For more information
. And, as always, contact your primary-care provider with questions about your medical situation.