There are now more opportunities to get your hands on a free coronavirus test (and N95 masks!).

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the different types of tests, how to use them and even when officials say you should take a test.

Check out The Seattle Times’ guide for what you need to know about coronavirus testing, and read on to know what to do with your results once you self-test.

What to know about at-home COVID-19 tests

What should I do if I test positive?

Consider a second test: While an at-home antigen test provides rapid results, PCR tests are performed in a lab. You can get a PCR test at a health care provider’s office or a testing site, or use an at-home nasal swab and saliva PCR test to collect a sample to mail to a lab to be analyzed.

If you took a rapid test, you don’t necessarily need a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis, according to Dr. Susan Bleasdale, an infectious disease physician at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. A PCR test isn’t necessary if you have COVID symptoms. If you don’t have COVID-19 symptoms, or a known exposure to someone with COVID, consider a follow-up PCR test if there is concern about a false positive, she said.

Report your positive result: You should tell people you were around recently. Notify anyone you saw in the two days prior to when either you developed symptoms or tested positive, and tell anyone you were around when you had symptoms.


The Washington state Department of Health instructs people to contact the DOH COVID-19 hotline at 1-800-525-0127 and press the pound sign to report the positive result from an over-the-counter test. The hotline is open Mondays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Tuesdays through Sundays (and observed holidays) from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

You can also anonymously report your positive results on Washington state’s COVID-19 exposure notification app, WA Notify, which alerts users of coronavirus exposures. The app uses Bluetooth technology to detect proximity to other phones to notify users if someone tested positive who was within 6 feet of them.

Notify your employer and school. Public Health – Seattle & King County has a form you can provide an employer that explains when it is safe to return to work.

More on the COVID-19 pandemic

Isolate and monitor symptoms: According to the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, experts advise isolating yourself from others for at least five days. Wear a well-fitting mask when you need to be around others; stay in your own room and use a separate bathroom if available.

If at the five-day mark, if you are fever-free for 24 hours without any medication and other symptoms have improved, you can end isolation but should still wear the mask. The CDC notes that loss of taste and smell may persist for weeks or months and doesn’t need to delay leaving isolation.


Pay attention to your symptoms. If symptoms worsen, call a health care provider. If you live in King County and do not have a health care provider, call the county’s COVID-19 call center, which is open daily between 8 a.m.-7 p.m. at 206-477-3977.

Watch for emergency signs and call 911 if you have:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • Unusual feelings of confusion
  • Lips, skin or nail beds with a blue or purple tint, depending on your skin tone

Seek assistance, if needed: King County has a Care Coordination team to help those who need services or assistance, including groceries, while isolating.

Reach the team by calling 206-477-8260 seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Or email

Masking against COVID and omicron: a visual guide

What should I do if I test negative?

Seek a second test: A negative test result means the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found in your specimen. But that doesn’t rule out a COVID-19 infection. While rapid tests are faster and less expensive than PCR tests, there is an increased chance of false-negative results with rapid tests.

The result could be negative if the test was taken too early in an infection.

If you are concerned you might have COVID-19 because you were exposed to someone with it or have COVID symptoms, or that you might have a false negative result, the CDC recommends quarantining and getting another test.


You can continue testing with a rapid self-test within a few days, or get tested through your health care provider or a local testing site.

Isolate and monitor symptoms: If a subsequent test is positive, the CDC recommends isolating from others for at least five days since your positive test. Or if you develop symptoms, enter isolation the date your symptoms started, regardless of your vaccination status.

What should I do if I get an invalid or error result?

Test again: Invalid results or an error can happen with self-tests for several reasons. You may not have correctly collected your specimen or the test did not work properly. If this occurs, a new test is needed.

Seek assistance: Be sure to check the instructions included in your testing kit. Contact the manufacturer for help if needed, or get tested at a health care provider or at a local testing site.

Material from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.