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When you should be tested for COVID-19

We have answers to common questions below about when you should be tested for the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Could I have COVID-19?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough and shortness of breath. The most common method to acquire COVID-19 is through direct contact with a person diagnosed with COVID-19. However, community transmission is happening in some areas. Community transmission occurs when a virus spreads and the source is not known.

Should I go to my doctor and get tested for COVID-19?

If you are in a group at a higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 and have symptoms of this virus you should call your health care provider. Your health care provider will assess your symptoms and possibility of exposure and will determine if you should be tested. Individuals at high risk include:

  • older adults, age 60 years or over
  • people with underlying health conditions
  • people with weakened immune systems, and
  • pregnant women.

If you are a health care worker in contact with patients or other health care workers, or if you are a first responder (EMS, fire, police), you need to be tested regardless of the high-risk criteria.

If you do not have a high-risk condition, are not a healthcare worker or first responder, and your symptoms are mild, you do not need to be evaluated in person and do not need to be tested for COVID-19. You can isolate yourself (see below). There are currently no medications to treat COVID-19.

If I think I may have COVID-19 or another respiratory infection, what should I do to keep my infection from spreading to my family and other people in the community?

Stay home except to get medical care.

Do not go to work, school, or public areas.

Do not use public transportation, ridesharing, or taxis.

Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home.

  • As much as possible, you should stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home. Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available. If you must share a bathroom, you or your housemates should clean surfaces regularly (see below).
  • Wear a surgical type mask or cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or other cloth if you are in the same room with others.

Call ahead before visiting your doctor

If you need to have a medical visit, call the health care provider and tell them that you have symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19. This will help the health care provider’s office take steps to keep other people from getting exposed or infected.

Wear a facemask

  • Wear a facemask when you are around other people (for example, sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.
  • If you do not have a face mask, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or other cloth (such as a cut-up tee shirt or similar). 

If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then people who live with you should not be in the same room with you, or they should wear a facemask if they enter your room.

Cover your coughs and sneezes

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in a lined trash can. If you do not have a tissue, cover your cough or sneeze with your arm and elbow, not your hand.
  • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if water and soap are not available.

Avoid sharing personal household items

  • Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, or bedding with other people or pets in your home.
  • After using these items, they should be washed thoroughly with soap and water. 

Clean your hands often

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching surfaces and objects that others touch frequently (“high-touch” surfaces) with unwashed hands.

Clean all 'high-touch' surfaces every day

  • High-touch surfaces include counters, tabletops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables.
  • Clean any surfaces that may have blood, stool, or body fluids on them.
  • Use a household cleaning spray or wipe, according to the label instructions.

Monitor your symptoms

  • Seek medical attention right away if your illness is gets worse (e.g., difficulty breathing).
  • Before seeking care, call your health care provider and tell them that your symptoms are consistent with COVID-19.
  • Put on a facemask before you enter the facility.
  • If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, notify the dispatch personnel that you have symptoms consistent with COVID-19. If possible, put on a facemask before emergency medical services arrive.
When can I end home isolation?

If you do not have a test to determine if you are still contagious, you can leave home after all of these three things have happened:

  1. you have had no fever for at least 72 hours (without the use of fever reducing medicine)
  2. other symptoms have improved (for example, when your cough or shortness of breath have improved), and
  3. at least 7 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared.
Still have questions? Contact:
Public Health Commission
1010 Massachusetts Avenue
2nd Floor
Boston MA  02118
United States