Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing

When to Get Tested

Key times to get tested for COVID-19 include: 

  • If you have symptoms, test immediately.
  • If you were exposed to COVID-19 and do not have symptoms, wait at least 5 full days after your exposure before testing. If you test too early, you may be more likely to get an inaccurate result.
  • If you are in certain high-risk settings, you may need to test as part of a screening testing program.
  • Consider testing before an event or visiting someone higher risk for severe illness, even when you don’t have symptoms or a recent exposure to COVID-19. Test as close to the time of the event as possible (at least within 1-2 days).


Testing Options

1At-Home Testing

At-home testing allows a person to collect a specimen and perform either a molecular or antigen test according to directions provided with the kit. Self-tests for COVID-19 give rapid results and can be taken anywhere.

At-home tests can be purchased at pharmacies and other retailers. 

2Contact a Health Care Provider

Call your health care provider to discuss your symptoms and get scheduled for a test. Places such as pharmacies, urgent care centers, community health centers, and community-based clinics across the region also offer testing. 

Use this Virginia Department of Health (VDH) tool to search for a testing site in Virginia near you.

3Get tested by the Health Department

The Health Department offers COVID-19 testing at its clinics to people who have symptoms, to those who do not have access to testing options available in the community, and to those identified as close contacts. Appointments are required. Call 703-246-2411 to schedule a testing appointment. 

Using At-home COVID-19 Tests


Test Yourself If You have symptoms You were exposed to someone with COVID-19
When to test Test Immediately. Test at least 5 full days after your exposure.
If your test is negative

Test again 48 hours after your first test. If you get a negative result on the second test and you are concerned that you could have COVID-19 you may consider:

  • Testing again 48 hours after the second test.
  • Getting a laboratory molecular-based test (PCR).
  • Calling a health care provider.

Continue to take steps to protect yourself and others.

Test again 48 hours after your first test. If both tests are negative, then repeat testing after another 48 hours for a total of three tests.

Continue to take steps to protect yourself and others, including monitoring for symptoms

If your test is positive

A positive COVID-19 test means the virus was detected and you have an infection.

Take steps to protect yourself and others.

A positive COVID-19 test means the virus was detected and you have an infection.

Take steps to protect yourself and others.

A negative COVID-19 test means the test did not detect the virus, but this doesn’t rule out that you could have an infection. Most at-home COVID-19 antigen tests do not detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as molecular tests, like PCR tests. COVID-19 antigen tests may not detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus early in an infection, meaning testing soon after you were exposed to someone with COVID-19 could lead to a false-negative result (this means the test did not detect the virus when a person is infected), especially if you don't have symptoms. 

Repeat testing reduces the risk an infection may be missed and to help prevent people from unknowingly spreading the virus. See detailed guidance about repeat testing.

Positive antigen test results are typically accurate. If you receive a positive result initially or after a repeat test, this means the test detected the SARS-CoV-2 virus and you most likely have COVID-19.

Check the expiration date

At-home COVID-19 tests have expiration dates. This is because COVID-19 tests, and the parts they are made of, may break down over time. Because of this, expired test kits could give inaccurate or invalid test results. 

COVID-19 test manufacturers perform studies to show how long after manufacturing COVID-19 tests perform as accurately as the day the test was manufactured. The expiration date for an at-home COVID-19 diagnostic test may be extended beyond the date printed on the outer box or package as additional data is collected. 

Before you use an at-home test, check the expiration date on the test packaging. If it is beyond the expiration date, check the Expiration Date column of the List of Authorized At-Home OTC COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests to see if the expiration date has been extended and how to find a new expiration date.

At-home testing tips

  • Store all test components according to the manufacturer’s instructions until ready for use.
  • Clean the countertop, table, or other surfaces where you will do the test.
  • Do not open test devices or other test components until you are ready to start the testing process.
  • Have a timer ready because you may need to time several of the test steps.
  • Read test results only within the amount of time specified in the manufacturer’s instructions. A result read before or after the specified timeframe may be incorrect.
  • Don’t reuse test devices or other components.

What if My Test is Positive?

If you test positive for COVID-19 there are some important steps that you need to take to prevent spreading the virus to others:

  • Stay home and away from others, and take precautions, including wearing a high-quality mask to protect others from getting infected.
  • Tell your close contacts.

Treatments are Available

Several types of treatment are available, which may be used at different times or in different groups of patients. Talk with your healthcare provider to get more information about the range of options.

Here are three things to know:

  1. If you are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19, treatment is available to prevent your illness from becoming worse leading to hospitalization and death. Contact a healthcare provider after a positive test to determine if you are eligible for treatment, even if you only have mild or moderate symptoms. You can also visit a Test to Treat location and, if eligible, receive a prescription from a provider at that location.
  2. Follow guidance on testing for COVID-19. Find a testing location that can provide treatment if you test positive using the Treatment Locator or by calling 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).
  3. Don’t delay: Treatment must be started within the five days of when your symptoms began.

Most of the treatments for COVID-19 are free, but you may be responsible for a co-pay or a fee at the location where you receive the treatment if it needs to be given by an infusion. You will not be responsible for any fees from a pharmacy if receiving tablets or capsules for the treatment of COVID-19. See more information about possible fees associated with COVID-19 treatments from VDH.  

Learn more about COVID-19 Treatments and Medications.

Testing Resources

Free Home Tests

Beginning November 20, every U.S. household can again place an order to receive four more free COVID-19 rapid tests delivered directly to their home. 

Community members can pick up FREE test kits from libraries participating in the VDH Supporting Testing Access through Community Collaboration (STACC) program.  


If You Do Not Have Insurance

If you do not have a primary doctor, and you are concerned that you have symptoms of COVID-19, you can contact HealthWorks (703-443-2000) or Neighborhood Health (703-535-5568) to be evaluated and schedule a testing appointment. New patients are accepted with or without insurance and on a sliding scale fee if low-income and uninsured. Priority is given to patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19.

  • HealthWorks provides COVID-19 testing free for uninsured patients who meet eligibility for the sliding scale fee and do not already have another primary doctor. Patients should call 703-443-2000 to get a telehealth evaluation by a medical provider prior to scheduling a test.
  • Neighborhood Health provides COVID-19 testing free for uninsured patients who meet eligibility for the sliding scale fee. Patients should call 703-535-5568 to get a telehealth evaluation by a medical provider prior to scheduling a test.
  • Inova Cares Clinics for Families provides primary care services for patients with Medicaid or low-income uninsured patients up to 400% Federal Poverty Guideline and offers limited COVID-19 testing.

You can also call our Coordinated Services Planning service at 703-222-0880, TTY 711 (Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.) to talk with someone about your needs and receive advice on services available to you.

Qualified uninsured individuals may now be able to access free COVID-19 laboratory testing through Quest Diagnostics. This testing is offered as part of a program from the CDC Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) program. To see if you qualify and make an appointment, visit the Quest website. 

Information for Community Organizations

All schools (public and private), daycares, food banks, and libraries participating in the Supporting Testing Access through Community Collaboration (STACC) program in Fairfax Health District are eligible to receive free COVID-19 test kits provided from the Virginia Department of Health.


Types of Tests

Viral tests, or diagnostic tests, look for a current infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, by testing specimens from your nose or mouth. All tests should be performed following FDA’s requirements.

There are two main types of viral tests:

  1. Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests. Your sample will usually be taken by a healthcare provider and transported to a laboratory for testing.
  2. Antigen tests. Antigen tests are rapid tests that usually produce results in 15-30 minutes. At-home tests, are antigen tests that can be taken anywhere without having to go to a specific testing site.

Antibody tests detect antibodies that your body makes to fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Antibody tests should never be used to diagnose a current infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. An antibody test may not show if you have a current infection, because it can take 1 to 3 weeks after the infection for your body to make antibodies. 


Related Resources

Virginia Department of Health (VDH): VDH's COVID-19 Testing

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR): Test to Treat

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