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How to test yourself for COVID-19

A woman taking a home COVID-19 test

COVID-19 self-tests, also called home tests, can be taken anywhere. They provide rapid results. Some self-tests use a swab of saliva from your mouth. Others use a sample of mucus from your nose.

You can take a self-test for COVID-19 anytime. But they're especially important if you have symptoms of COVID-19 or you've spent time with someone who has COVID-19.  

It's also a good idea to test yourself before spending time with someone at high risk for severe COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How to get your test

Choose an authorized test. Check the list of authorized tests from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Also, make sure the test is intended for your age group.

Look for a diagnostic test. According to FDA, diagnostic tests can show if you currently have COVID-19. They include molecular and antigen tests. Antibody tests look at whether your immune system has reacted to the coronavirus. But that response can take days or weeks to develop. Don't use antibody tests to find out if you currently have COVID-19.

Buy directly at a pharmacy, retail store or online. You can also order a limited number of free tests at www.covid.gov/tests. Or you can check with your local health department about getting a test for free.

How to use your COVID-19 test

When you test yourself for COVID-19, it's important to follow instructions carefully. If you don't collect your sample correctly, the test may not be as accurate. Read the instructions in your test kit before you start. And get prepped for the test with these tips from CDC:

  • Have a timer ready on your phone or use a kitchen timer.
  • Disinfect the surface where you will open the test kit.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Open the test kit and follow the directions. Be sure to use the correct angle, placement and movement of the swab when taking a sample.

Use a timer to make sure you read the results within the time frame given in the instructions. Reading the results too soon or too late may give you an incorrect result.

Throw away the collection swab once you're done. Never reuse swabs or other parts of the test.

If you test positive, let your doctor know. And tell anyone you have spent time with in the two days before you had symptoms or took the test.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you should take steps to avoid spreading it. CDC recommends that you stay home or isolate yourself for at least five days and wear a mask when around others.

Have questions about your results? Your doctor can help you understand what they mean for you.

Reviewed 8/15/2022

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