Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing

If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, contact a health care provider and they can order a test.

Situation Overview

We recognize there has been much confusion and frustration on the topic of COVID-19 testing. The availability of testing had been more limited than we and the public would like to see because of limited supply of protective gear (primarily respirators, face shields/goggles, and gowns) as well as limited availability of the testing materials (“kits”) to collect the specimens. The testing challenges in the Fairfax Health District have been similar to those being experienced across the country.

But that is changing. Now that we have commercial laboratories with testing capability and additional supplies, more places are conducting testing, including locations that serve patients who may not have health insurance. From the beginning of March to the beginning of May, testing for current COVID-19 infection in Fairfax County has increased from less than 50 to more than 700 per day.

If you have symptoms and are concerned that you have COVID-19, you are encouraged to seek testing from your health care provider or other provider offering testing.


Testing Overview

There are two types of testing available for COVID-19: 

Type 1: Diagnostic viral test.

This is a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test used to detect viral RNA. This is the best test available to indicate if you have a current infection. These tests are conducted using a nasal or nasopharyngeal swab to collect a specimen. Test results may remain positive for days to more than a week.

Type 2: Serologic (or antibody) test.

These tests are conducted to detect COVID-19 antibodies, which your body makes in response to an infection.

There are two types, one tests for recent infection (IgM) and one tests for past infection (IgG). The performance of these tests vary. These tests are conducted using a blood specimen. IgM becomes positive 4-10 days after infection & IgG becomes positive 10-20 days after infection. Depending on when someone was infected and the timing of the test, the test may not find antibodies in someone with a current COVID-19 infection.

We do not know yet if the antibodies that result from infection with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can protect someone from reinfection with this virus or how long antibodies to the virus will protect someone. Scientists are conducting research to answer those questions.


Current Recommendations 

So, here is what we recommend people do right now:

1. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and you are concerned you’ve been exposed, you should call your doctor or other health care provider. Your doctor will evaluate your health and determine if you need testing. DO NOT go to your doctor’s office unannounced. Very specific infection control protocols must be in place prior to your arrival. And, if your doctor facilitates a test for you at a lab or hospital, you must follow their directions specifically so that infection control protocol is appropriate.

2. If your health care provider declines to test you for COVID-19, it may be because they don’t believe testing is warranted in your situation based on their best clinical judgment. Your health care provider may also decline testing because they do not have the materials to do such testing in the office. In that case, ask your provider if they can refer you to another location. Health care providers are being encouraged to offer testing to people who have symptoms.

3. If you are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough or shortness of breath) and either have a positive lab test or have been directed by your health care provider to isolate at home, please follow the recommended guidance. While waiting for results, it’s important that you stay home and stay away from others and wear a cloth face covering when social distancing is difficult. If you have COVID-19, you will receive further guidance to help protect yourself and others and to identify your close contacts. Guidance for how long to self-isolate is available from the Virginia Department of Health.


Find Testing

COVID-19 Testing is Available in FairfaxCOVID-19 testing is available in Fairfax & surrounding jurisdictions.  

This document describes what steps you need to take and where to go. Please note, many testing sites require pre-screening, a doctor’s order, and most require appointments. Download a copy in English or Spanish.

You should NOT go to any emergency room unless it is an emergency; for example, you are having difficulty breathing. If you need to go to the ER, and you have symptoms plus a known exposure, you must call ahead to ensure proper infection control protocols are in place prior to your arrival.


Resources for the Uninsured 

Many of the locations in the document above offer testing for uninsured patients. 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.

The Fairfax Health District has many low-cost health care resources for individuals who lack health insurance. See: Coronavirus (COVID-19): Health Care Options for the Uninsured

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.


What's the Health Department's Role?

The Health Department does not evaluate patients or collect specimens for commercial testing because these functions are best performed by primary care providers, urgent care centers or emergency departments where a complete medical evaluation, radiology, and other types of laboratory testing are available. However, we do facilitate testing at our laboratory and Virginia Department of Health laboratory for certain high-risk groups, such as those who are hospitalized or persons who live in a long-term care facility.

The Health Department is focused on providing guidance to our medical community, so they better understand how to facilitate testing for patients who need it and so they feel better prepared. We will also continue to perform the critical role of reducing the spread of infection in high-risk settings such as facilities for older adults and to facilitate planning and implementation of mitigation strategies that will reduce the impact of the pandemic in the community.

The Health Department also continues to work with the Virginia Department of Health and local healthcare organizations to expand testing at current sites and to encourage testing at additional test sites to meet the needs. This includes working with our federally qualified health centers (HealthWorks and Neighborhood Health) and non-profit clinics to strategize with them on how testing capacity can be increased for vulnerable populations. We are assessing staffing needs, personal protective equipment needs and testing location needs for the different providers. We are also facilitating conversations that will support increased testing – such as collaborations between our federally qualified health centers and our non-profit clinics. .

Additionally, the Health Department reaches out to all individuals with a positive test to recommend that they separate themselves from others (self-isolate) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to identify the people they may have been in contact with during the time they were infectious to have them also separate from others (self-quarantine). These measures are a critical part of public health response to communicable disease and are effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

The Health Department also uses test results to track the progress of the outbreak in our community. This allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of control measures like staying at home, social distancing, increased environmental disinfection, and use of protective behaviors such as wearing cloth face coverings and frequent handwashing.


Learn more about testing

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

Virginia Department of Health Testing locations: COVID-19 Testing Sites 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: CDC's Testing for COVID-19 page

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