Think You Need A Coronavirus Test? Here Are The Steps To Protect You And Everyone Else

A nurse at a drive up COVID-19 coronavirus testing station, set up by the University of Washington Medical Center, on Friday, March 13, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
A nurse at a drive up COVID-19 coronavirus testing station, set up by the University of Washington Medical Center, on Friday, March 13, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

Many of us will wonder if we need to be tested for the coronavirus in the coming weeks. Here are the steps you can follow, provided by doctors in the Boston area, in keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Following these steps will help protect you, your fellow patients and the emergency room staff, who we all need to keep safe and on the job.

1. Call your doctor's office.

If you're experiencing symptoms like a fever, runny nose, cough or fatigue, or if you think you might have been exposed to the coronavirus, call your primary care doctor. Many physicians and nurses are screening patients over the phone. Some health insurers, like Blue Cross Blue Shield, have dedicated coronavirus hotlines you can call as well.

2. Do not go directly to an ER, your doctor's office or your community health center unless it is an emergency. 

As one emergency room nurse put it, behave as you would before COVID-19. Ask yourself: would I call an ambulance right now? If the answer is yes — you're having difficulty breathing, moving, trauma, seizure, injury, intractable pain — call 911. If the answer is no, and your doctor does not recommend a coronavirus test, stay home.

3. If you don't have a primary care doctor, call one of the hotlines for an initial screening.

Most health insurance plans have telemedicine lines available for members to talk to a doctor or nurse about their symptoms. Blue Cross, for example, says it has nurses available 24/7 at 888-247-2583. The Partners HealthCare line is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 617-724-7000.

4. If the phone screening confirms you need a coronavirus test, it’s best to call ahead.

Let the hospital know you are coming. You do not want to infect others or infect yourself if you don’t already have the coronavirus. Calling ahead gives the hospital staff time to prepare and take all the precautions necessary to protect you, your fellow patients and the hospital's employees.

5. If you've called ahead, someone from the hospital may meet you outside the ER.

The hospital may also tell you to look for one of the tents or temporary facilities that many medical centers have set up to isolate possible coronavirus patients. Doctors ask that you do not walk right into the ER waiting room, where you might infect others or increase your chance of an infection.

6. Some hospitals and physician groups, such as Atrius, are setting up or already have drive-through testing.

Call ahead to get specific instructions about how to access this service. Do not drive directly to the tent without an appointment or referral. If you are not a scheduled patient, you will have to be screened first.

7. Stay in your car for the drive-through test.

Someone in personal protective equipment -- such as a gown, face shield and gloves -- will take a nasal sample. Doctors say you should come alone.

8. Once you've been tested, you must isolate yourself as much as possible.

This means staying home and not interacting with friends or family members until you receive your results. You may even want to avoid your pets. The CDC says it's possible that pets can catch the coronavirus; we don't know for certain yet. Currently, it could take two to three days to get the results of your test.

9. If your symptoms do not indicate the need for a test, stay home — ideally in isolation — in case you get worse.

The incubation period for the coronavirus is estimated at two to 14 days, which means some people will develop symptoms sooner than others. Ask your doctor how long you should stay home. Some physicians say a good general rule is to wait until your symptoms are gone for 24 hours without medication.

10. Thank the medical professionals you encounter along the way.

We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the front-line medical staff who are working around the clock to create these new services. No hugs allowed, but shout it out: thank you!

Sign up


Martha Bebinger Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.



More from WBUR

Listen Live