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When you should get tested for COVID-19


By Dr. Nicole Fortuna

For El Conquistador

 

With restrictions and information changing all the time, it can be very confusing to know when you should get tested for COVID-19 and when you shouldn’t. Right now, Milwaukee is well-prepared to test people. There are numerous sites around the city where you can go to get tested, even if you are not an established patient. So --- when should you go? We’ve heard many questions like, “I was at the grocery store and forgot my mask, do I need to be tested?” Or, “I went to a protest, do I need to be tested?” There are a few things to keep in mind when you are deciding whether you should be tested.

Symptoms

If you do not feel well, you should be tested for COVID-19. Symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, feeling tired, muscle or body aches, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion, runny nose, throwing up or feeling like you need to, and diarrhea.

Even if you have very light symptoms, you should get tested. Not everyone who has COVID-19 gets very sick. It’s important to know if you have the virus so you can reduce the risk of spreading it to other people. You also shouldn’t go to work or send your kids to daycare, even if you don’t feel that bad. The right thing to do for your family and community is to self-isolate until you know your results.

Exposure

If you think you have been in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 when you and the person were not wearing a mask, you should be tested. There is a good chance they passed the virus to you even if you don’t have symptoms. This exposure may be family in your home, friends, or coworkers.

Always wear your mask when you are in public or around other people. If you have walked in a protest or have been in large groups of people without a mask and you have symptoms, it is a good idea to be tested. Coronavirus is still spreading in our community and likely will spread even more now that people are returning to work, going to stores, and engaging in social activities.

If you are always wearing a mask around others when in public and washing your hands often, then it’s ok to watch for symptoms and to call your doctor if they develop.

It’s not the best idea to get yourself tested just because you are curious. Remember, even if you test negative, this doesn’t 100% guarantee that you don’t have coronavirus. The test is high quality, but it’s not perfect. A very small number of people who test negative actually have the virus. This is called a false-negative test. That’s why it’s best to always wear your mask when outside of your home. It protects you and the people around you.

Testing After Exposure

It takes a few days for the virus to build-up enough in your system to be detected by the test. If you get tested too soon, false-negative results are more likely. Even during this early stage and before you have symptoms you are contagious. So, you should start isolating right away and call your doctor. Let them know the date that you think you were exposed and they will schedule an appointment for you at the appropriate time. Stay home and away from others until you’ve gotten your test AND results back. Other family members should also stay home and avoid going to work during this time. Ask your doctor for a work excuse for them as well. If you live in a house with other people, wear your mask at all times, do your best to separate yourself, clean frequently, wash hands frequently, and don’t share household items like food, utensils, or the TV remote.

It’s also considerate tell people who you were in contact with for the last 2 weeks if you test positive. There is a good chance you could have passed the virus to them. This helps prevent more spread of the virus because your friends or coworkers know they should limit their contact with people outside their homes.

Re-testing

Very few people need to be tested again after they have had a positive test. The reason is that a second test doesn’t provide you or your doctor useful information. A second test cannot tell you if you are recovered or immune to the coronavirus. Tests can remain positive for weeks after symptoms have resolved and you’re no longer contagious. Your employer or your child’s daycare should NOT be asking you for a test to show you have recovered. If they insist, ask your doctor about what to do next.

In Doubt? Call Your Doctor.

If you are not sure, the best thing you can do is call your doctor. They will help you figure out if a test is right for you or not.

If you have any questions, or think you need a COVID-19 test, call Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers at 414-672-1353. Sixteenth Street offers COVID-19 testing and care, in addition to general medical care, behavioral health care, social services, and more. All people are welcome --- no immigration, cost, or insurance restrictions.

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Milwaukee: 414-672-1353 | Waukesha: 262-408-2530