All About Testing for COVID-19
As we approach the fall season, Canada has begun emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown. Stores and businesses have reopened their doors, public spaces and services have been made available, and most elementary and secondary schools have welcomed students back to class for the new school year. Most of our citizens are working hard to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 cases by wearing masks, practicing social distancing, maintaining excellent hand hygiene, and implementing preventative measures where possible.
These actions are crucial in keeping ourselves and our communities safe and healthy. These past few days, however, we've seen COVID-19 cases increasing at alarming rates. On Friday September 18, the province of Ontario reported 401 new cases; a daily increase this high has not been seen since June. Quebec reported 297 new cases on Friday while British Columbia reported 165 on Thursday. With the risk of a second wave becoming more evident each day, COVID-19 testing is more important than ever. Early tests allow for early identification of cases, which notifies both the individual on the proper steps they should be taking, and health authorities on who and where the virus is spreading to.
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When You Should Get Tested
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who should get tested include:
People who have symptoms of COVID-19
People who have had close contact (within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes) with someone with confirmed COVID-19
People who have been asked or referred to get testing by their healthcare provider, local or state health department
If you believe that you are at risk or have been exposed to COVID-19, complete the COVID-19 online self-assessment that, upon completion, will provide you with a recommendation on what to do next. Visit the Government of Canada website to access their self-assessment tool or to identify the province-specific self-assessment tool your province has established.
The Government of Canada’s COVID Alert app is also a useful tool in preventing the spread of the virus. The smartphone application—available for both iOS and Android users—uses Bluetooth to determine if a user has been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. If so, the user will receive an alert with instructions on what to do next. In order for this system to work effectively, it is encouraged that all Canadians who are able to do so download the app. To learn more about COVID Alert, its privacy, accuracy, and a detailed view of how it works, check out this article from Race to a Cure.
For more information on testing in your area, visit your local health department’s website or contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing symptoms and wish to get tested.
What to Expect
In Canada, there are 3 ways to administer a test for COVID-19—molecular and point-of-care testing that determines if you are currently sick with the virus, and serology testing that determines if you have had the virus previously. A molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test involves collecting samples from the nose or throat with a swab. The swab is then sent to a laboratory for analysis and results are provided after 1-3 days. A point-of-care test involves the same testing procedure, however, swabs are tested on-site and results are provided in only 30-60 minutes. A serology test is a blood test that checks a blood sample for antibodies. These tests do not detect a current infection, but determine if you have had the virus in the past.
Many testing centers require appointments booked in advance, in order to maintain a safe amount of people at the site at all times. The required documentation may also vary for different provinces and cities, so make sure to visit your local health authority’s website for details on getting tested. When traveling to a clinic or testing center, it is important to wear a mask and maintain a safe physical distance from others at all times.
If you do test positive, expect to be asked information about your symptoms, the places you have been or traveled to, and the people you have come in close contact with. This is a key component in the important process of contact tracing, which can warn others of their exposure to the virus before further spread can occur.
What to Do After You Get Tested
In many cases, it can take up to 7 days to receive the results of a COVID-19 test. During this time, you should be self-isolating by staying home and avoiding all contact with others. If you are experiencing worsening symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, call 911, and seek emergency medical care immediately.
Below are a few common COVID-19 testing terminologies:
Negative: A negative test result means that you do not have COVID-19. However, this does not mean you will not contract the virus in the future. Continue to follow Public Health guidelines, including wearing a mask in public spaces, physical distancing from others outside of your immediate family, frequent handwashing, and avoiding unnecessary contact.
Positive: A positive test result means that you have COVID-19 and should enter a period of isolation immediately. Stay at home and avoid all contact with others in the house when possible. Monitor your symptoms and seek emergency medical care in severe cases.
Inconclusive: An inconclusive test result means that it was not possible to determine whether you have COVID-19 or not. In the case of an inconclusive result, continue to self-isolate and seek a re-test.
False positive: A false positive describes an inaccurate test, where the result indicates that an individual has tested positive for COVID-19 when they, in fact, do not have the virus. These situations are very rare and are likely due to cross-contamination in testing labs. False positives can result in additional stress and difficulties in individuals, as they are forced to isolate themselves from the public and their families to prevent further spread.
False negative: A false negative describes an inaccurate test, where the result indicates that an individual has tested negative for COVID-19 when they, in fact, do have the virus. False negatives are much more common than false positives, and are largely due to improper testing or testing being done too early. These cases risk increased exposure of the virus to the public, as individuals may believe they are safe to engage in social activities.
COVID-19 testing plays a major role in identifying where the virus is present and preventing further contamination. If you are experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to individuals with the virus, get tested immediately. It is vital that we follow guidelines and advisories from health authorities and all do our part in keeping our communities safe and healthy!
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Article Author: Victoria Huang
Article Editors: Stephanie Sahadeo, Valerie Shirobokov