Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 testing
When it comes to your health, it’s important to have all the answers. Read on for more detailed answers to some of the most common questions about COVID-19 testing.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 (formally known as 2019-nCoV) is the name for the respiratory syndrome caused by infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, loss of smell, coughing, sore throat, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, feeling weak or lethargic, chills, muscle pain, lightheadedness or dizziness, headache, vomiting or diarrhea, slurred speech, and/or seizures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers many resources on COVID-19, including symptoms.
Does Quest provide testing for COVID-19?
Yes. Quest is one of the labs processing the complex COVID-19 testing during this public health emergency.
For diagnosis of an active COVID-19 infection, you may purchase the test for yourself through QuestDirect™. If you order with QuestDirect, you can get an at-home collection kit delivered to you or make an appointment at a drive-thru collection site. Another option is to contact a doctor or authorized healthcare provider to have a test sample collected by nose or throat swab. You cannot go to a Quest patient service center for active infection testing. You may also consider finding a testing location through national partnerships we have with Walmart® and CVS Health®, or find local testing options through Google®.
For COVID-19 antibody testing, you can make an appointment at a Quest patient service center if you have a doctor’s order or if you purchased the test through QuestDirect. You must also have been symptom-free for at least 10 days.
The cost of tests through QuestDirect cannot be submitted to health insurance.
Is Quest increasing its testing capacity to meet demand?
Yes. Quest has steadily increased COVID-19 testing capacity to meet the growing demand from patients, hospitals and healthcare providers in our communities.
How do I know if I have COVID-19?
If you suspect you may have COVID-19, contact your doctor or an authorized healthcare provider immediately for guidance. Your healthcare provider can review your symptoms to determine what testing is appropriate. If COVID-19 diagnostic testing for active infection makes sense for you, your healthcare provider will direct you where to get tested. Diagnostic testing includes collecting your samples (for example, nose or throat swab). Your respiratory samples will be sent to Quest for advanced testing to determine if you are positive for COVID-19 or not.
How do I know if I’m recovered from COVID-19?
You are considered "recovered" from COVID-19 and no longer infectious if it has been at least 10 days from start of your first symptoms, and at least 24 hours without a fever, and all other symptoms have improved.
Additionally, an antibody test may be able to detect if you have previously had an infection and already recovered—even if you never experienced symptoms. Detecting antibodies indicates you may possibly have a lower risk of getting COVID-19 again.* However, more research is needed because it is not yet known how long antibodies will last after infection and whether antibodies offer short- and/or long-term protection against getting infected again.
How do I get tested for COVID-19?
If you suspect you may have COVID-19, contact your doctor or an authorized healthcare provider immediately for guidance. Your healthcare provider can review your symptoms to determine what appropriate testing is needed. If COVID-19 testing makes sense for you, your healthcare provider will direct you where to get tested, which includes collecting your sample (for example, nose or throat swab). Another option is to purchase the test for yourself through QuestDirect. If you order with QuestDirect, you can get an at-home collection kit delivered to you or make an appointment at a drive-thru collection site. Your respiratory sample will be sent to a Quest lab for advanced testing.
If you may have already been exposed to COVID-19, you may be eligible for antibody testing. To get tested for COVID-19 antibodies, you can order the test for yourself via QuestDirect. This allows you to get tested without waiting to go your doctor first. Or, you can reach out to your doctor or healthcare provider and have them submit an order for your test. Learn more about antibody testing options.
What is pooling?
Pooling is a testing technique that allows the lab to mix a portion of several patient samples together (up to 4 in the Quest test) to create one “pooled” sample for testing. If the pooled sample is negative, that indicates all the patient samples are negative. If the pooled sample is positive (or invalid/inconclusive), then each patient sample is tested again individually to identify which is positive. Pooling helps labs get more testing done faster. It is useful for testing groups of people that are unlikely to have a high number of positive results. For example, pooling is used by blood banks to test blood donations for a variety of viruses. Pooling and other lab innovations have increased Quest’s ability to meet the demand for COVID-19 testing across the country.
How accurate are COVID-19 tests?
Lab test accuracy is measured in two ways—specificity and sensitivity. The antibody tests currently offered by Quest Diagnostics have specificity values of 99.6% to 100% which keeps false positive results to a minimum. The antibody test sensitivity values are approximately 90% to 100%.
Quest’s antibody tests have met robust validation standards and have been granted Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) by the FDA for public health and clinical use.
Additionally, Quest verifies the tests using strict criteria for precision, reproducibility, accuracy, method comparison, cross-reactivity, and clinical performance.
The active infection (molecular) tests currently performed by Quest have been validated for FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the current pandemic. However, no COVID-19 active infection tests have clinical sensitivity and specificity data at this time. Learn more about the analytical validation studies to earn FDA EUA designation.
Why should I get tested for COVID-19?
If you suspect you have COVID-19 or were recently in contact with someone who had it, a swab test can tell you whether you have an active infection. Knowing if you currently have COVID-19 gives you the information you need to self-isolate and protect everyone around you.
If you suspect that you previously had COVID-19, even if you never showed signs of being sick, you can take an antibody blood test to confirm prior infection. If the test detects antibodies, you may possibly have a lower risk of getting the virus again.
Understanding your antibody status also gives you and your healthcare provider the insight to make an informed decision about returning to activity. Other reasons why it’s beneficial to know if you are positive for COVID-19 antibodies include:
- Encouraging those you were in contact with to talk to their doctor about getting tested
- Reducing the need to be monitored and retested for COVID-19 infection
- Donating plasma for those who are seriously ill from COVID-19 Learn how to donate plasma
- Doing your part to slow the spread of the virus by being counted in global pandemic statistics
How do I get COVID-19 test results?
Typically, the quickest way to get your test results is having them sent to you automatically through your secure MyQuest online portal. If you don’t already have a MyQuest account, signing up is free and easy.
Can I go to a Quest patient service center to be tested for COVID-19?
It depends on the type of test you need.
Testing for active COVID-19 infection is not performed at Quest patient service centers. If you suspect you have COVID-19, contact your doctor or an authorized healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will guide you on where in your community to get tested for an active infection. Another option is to purchase the test for yourself through QuestDirect. If you order with QuestDirect, you can get an at-home collection kit delivered to you or make an appointment at a drive-thru collection site. You may also consider finding a testing location through national partnerships we have with Walmart and CVS Health, or find local testing options through Google. Active infection testing includes collecting your test sample, usually through a nose or throat swab. Those respiratory samples are then sent to Quest labs to process the tests.
Testing for COVID-19 antibodies can be performed at Quest patient service centers with an appointment if you have been symptom-free for at least 10 days. You must have a doctor’s order or purchase the test through QuestDirect to make an appointment for COVID-19 antibody testing.
Is it safe to go to a Quest patient service center for other testing services not related to COVID-19?
Quest has strong safety procedures in place at all times. These protect patients and employees from coming into contact with any infectious diseases. During the COVID-19 public health crisis, we have taken more precautions with our new Peace of Mind program that makes it easier to access the testing you need from Quest.
Peace of Mind measures include:
- Providing gloves to patients to use touchscreen kiosks
- Requiring face masks for all patients and employees
- Disinfecting all surfaces more frequently
- Dedicating time each day to vulnerable patients who are 60 years of age or older, pregnant, or have underlying medical conditions
- Offering a text alert option that allows patients to wait for appointments outside
- Limiting the number of people in the waiting room
- Mandating enhanced COVID-19 safety training for employees
- Equipping employees with additional personal protective equipment
- Washing hands more frequently for at least 20 seconds
- Using a no-contact technique to check patients’ temperatures upon entry
Also, patients who suspect they have active COVID-19 should not come to our patient service centers. They should contact their doctor or an authorized healthcare provider.
Learn more about the Peace of Mind program at Quest.
Can I order this test online for myself?
Testing for an active COVID-19 infection can be purchased online through QuestDirect. If you order with QuestDirect, you can get an at-home collection kit delivered to you or make an appointment at a drive-thru collection site.
Testing for COVID-19 antibodies can be purchased online through QuestDirect. Once the test is purchased, you can make an appointment at a Quest patient service center if you have been symptom-free for at least 10 days.
The cost of tests through QuestDirect cannot be submitted to health insurance.
Does Quest have experience with testing for emerging infectious diseases?
Yes, Quest has a history of providing advanced infectious disease testing during public health emergencies. Quest was the first national commercial provider to offer Zika and 2009 H1N1 influenza testing, which was emergency-use authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Today, Quest brings that same level of urgency and care to COVID-19 testing for you and your family. Learn more about infectious disease testing.
Important information about COVID-19 antibody testing
The test is designed to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibodies are proteins that the body produces in response to infections. The antibodies can be produced even if a person has few or no symptoms during the infection.
It generally takes some time after infection for antibodies to be produced and become detectable in blood (sometimes up to 3 weeks). It is important to remember that we do not yet know whether having antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 will prevent against getting the infection again or if you are totally free of the virus. Antibodies are generally detectable in the blood for a period of time after a person has recovered from the infection and after the virus that caused the infection is no longer detectable by laboratory methods.
Sometimes the antibodies developed in response to an infection protect us from getting that same infection again. But, it is important to know that we do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19. Even if you have recovered and have antibodies, there is a chance that you still have the virus and you can infect others, it is still critical to keep taking measures to avoid getting infected again and/or spreading infection.
The antibody test is not meant for detecting an active infection. The swab test (sometimes also known as a molecular, RNA or PCR test) should be used to test for active infection.
A negative antibody test result means that antibodies were not detected in your blood sample. This can have several possible meanings. It could mean that:
- You have not been infected with SARS-CoV-2, or
- You have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, but your antibodies have not reached a sufficient level for the test to be able to detect them, or
- You have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, but there has not been enough time for antibodies to develop (it can take up to one to three weeks to develop antibodies after someone is infected, sometimes longer).
A positive antibody test result means that antibodies were detected in your blood sample. This can have a couple of possible meanings. It could mean that:
- You have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 at some point in the past, or
- Uncommonly, you may have developed antibodies from an earlier infection with a different virus related to SARS-CoV-2 and the laboratory test cannot distinguish between these other virus antibodies and those antibodies generated in response to SARS-CoV-2.
COVID-19 testing statements
- The antibody tests and the molecular tests (together “All tests”) have not been FDA cleared or approved;
- All tests have been authorized by FDA under EUAs for use by authorized laboratories;
- The antibody tests have been authorized only for the detection of IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, not for any other viruses or pathogens;
- The molecular tests have been authorized only for the detection of nucleic acid from SARS-CoV-2, not for any other viruses, pathogens; and,
- All tests are only authorized for the duration of the declaration that circumstances exist justifying the authorization of emergency use of in vitro diagnostics for detection and/or diagnosis of COVID-19 under Section 564(b)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 360bbb-3(b)(1), unless the authorization is terminated or revoked sooner.