Seattle Times readers have submitted thousands of questions about COVID-19 and the new coronavirus that causes it.
We’ve answered a lot of them with traditional news stories, including “How to read and interpret epidemiological data,” “What you can and can’t do in each phase of the state’s reopening plan,” “How vaccine development is progressing” and more.
To supplement that deeper reporting, we’re publishing this weekly feature — FAQ Friday — giving quick answers to some of your most common questions about the pandemic.
If you have a question you haven’t seen addressed in The Seattle Times’ coverage, ask it at st.news/coronavirus-questions or via the form at the bottom of this article.
This week, we’re tackling your questions about testing — the kind used to diagnose an active infection and the kind that detects antibodies to the virus.
Where can I get tested for the coronavirus?
One way is to ask your primary care doctor, if you have one, to refer you. But not everyone has that option.
Use our interactive tool at st.news/coronavirus-testing to find a testing site near you, check availability and learn more information.
Or, find a site near you by texting COVIDTEST to 1-855-212-2411.
Your county’s health department website may also have a list of testing locations.
What is getting a test like?
Most tests in the Puget Sound region are being done at drive-thru testing sites, and the process is as simple as going through a Starbucks drive-thru. Some sites accommodate walk-ups, so be sure to choose one of those if you don’t have access to a vehicle. Many sites require appointments. Check online or call ahead to find out what you need to do at the site you plan to visit.
Some testing locations, such as the Polyclinic’s Madison Center drive-thru, hand you a test kit and give instructions so you can swab your own nostrils. Others, including the City of Seattle’s two free sites in North Seattle and Sodo, have someone else administer the test.
The swabbing isn’t painful, but it is uncomfortable, because the swab has to reach where the nasal passage meets the back of your throat. The process doesn’t last long, though; it takes about 10 seconds for specimens to be collected from each nostril.
Test results can typically be accessed online. Most people get results within a few days, but it depends which lab is processing your sample. Some people have had to wait longer because major commercial labs, which process tests from around the nation, have backlogs due to the number of tests coming in from hard-hit states like Florida and Arizona.
If you test positive, isolate yourself from other people for at least 10 days. Tell everyone you’ve been in close contact with to get tested right away. (“Close contact” means you have been within six feet of each other for at least 10 minutes.)
You will also hear from a contact tracer who will ask some questions that help ensure everyone who might have been exposed gets notified. Be aware that some scammers try to pose as contact tracers; if someone claiming to be a health official asks for your financial information, immigration status or password for anything, it’s fake and you should notify your local public health department immediately.
If someone in your home tests positive, stay in quarantine until 14 days after the COVID-19 patient has completed their time in isolation, Public Health – Seattle & King County recommends.
Public Health – Seattle & King County has additional guidance on its website, kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19, in 33 languages in addition to English.
How much does a test cost? Will my insurance cover it? What if I don’t have insurance?
The cost depends on where you get the test. Some testing sites are free, which is a great option for people without insurance. It’s a good idea to call or look online before you visit a testing site or make an appointment, so you know what to expect.
If you have insurance or Medicare and your usual doctor orders a test, it should be covered. Washington state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has ordered insurers to waive co-pays and deductibles, and not to require prior authorization, for anyone who needs a test. And, if not enough in-network providers offer testing near you, your insurer mustn’t charge you anything extra to see another provider “within a reasonable proximity.”
Find more information on your insurance rights regarding COVID-19 at insurance.wa.gov.
I was sick a while ago. Should I be tested for coronavirus antibodies? If so, how do I do that?
An antibody test, also known as a serology test, can determine whether you had COVID-19 in the past by detecting whether your blood contains antibodies to the virus.
It’s important to know that having antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 — the coronavirus’s official name — doesn’t necessarily mean you’re immune. There’s still a lot scientists don’t know about this virus, including how much protection antibodies provide and for how long.
So, a positive antibody test doesn’t indicate whether you could get infected again, says Dr. Vicky Fang, medical director of UW Medicine primary care and population health.
“We want to explain this to patients so when and if they receive a positive serology result, they understand that they should not stop using all of the protective measures that we’re asking everyone to use,” including wearing masks, social distancing, and washing hands, Fang said in a news release this week from UW Medicine.
If you are interested in being tested for antibodies, ask your health care provider, who can order a test through the UW Virology Lab or another lab.
Do we know how many people in Washington have antibodies?
Not really. That’s why the state Department of Health (DOH) and UW Medicine have teamed up to do a statewide serology survey. DOH doesn’t track recoveries from COVID-19, and it’s unknown how many people have been infected in the past without being diagnosed, so the survey could provide a more complete picture of how prevalent the coronavirus is across the state.
This isn’t an antibody test you can sign up for; rather, survey participants will be randomly selected from every census tract in the state, to ensure a representative sample of the population. Testing for the survey begins this summer, with the first results available in the fall.