Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing

If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, contact your doctor or health care provider, and they can order a test. Health care providers are using their medical judgement to order tests for COVID-19.


We recognize there has been much confusion and frustration on the topic of COVID-19 testing. Up until recently, COVID-19 testing was only available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state laboratories, with local health departments like ours helping to coordinate and facilitate those tests based on very specific testing criteria. Now that we have commercial laboratories testing capability, physicians have wider latitude to order testing.

Still, several challenges have limited testing for Fairfax County residents:

  1. With shortages of personal protective equipment across the nation, health care providers who lack recommended protective equipment may not test because of the risk to their health and ability to continue providing care in the community.
  2. The materials needed for specimen collection before being sent to the lab are in limited supply nationwide.


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. The Health Department is focused on training the medical community. COVID-19 is a brand new virus and we have very little information on it. We are guiding our medical community, so they better understand how to facilitate testing for patients who need it and so they feel better prepared. This includes sending health advisories and testing guidance to providers and setting up webinars for physicians.


Current Recommendations 

We recognize the capacity for testing is not currently meeting demand, and the challenges to COVID-19 testing in Fairfax County are similar to those being experienced across the country.

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. Your doctor will evaluate your health and determine if you need testing. The Health Department is NOT offering COVID-19 testing as we are not a primary health care service. 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.

Additionally, three Inova Urgent Care (UCC) locations will staff Respiratory Illness Clinics to evaluate all patients with respiratory illness symptoms. Before visiting any Inova Respiratory Illness Clinic, please read this blog post for important instructions.

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 one of their affiliated health care facilities where they will complete an assessment and you may be tested.

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 continue self-isolation at home until:

  • At least 7 days have passed since your symptoms first appeared AND
  • You have had no fever for at least 72 hours (three full days with no fever and no use of medicine to reduce fever) AND
  • Other symptoms have gone away or improved

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.

As commercial labs provide more test supplies, and additional laboratories provide testing, these challenges are likely to decrease. In the meantime, we will continue to perform the critical role of reducing the spread of infection in high-risk settings such as facilities for older adults, to provide support and guidance to the health care community, and to facilitate planning and implementation of mitigation strategies that will reduce the impact of the pandemic in the community.

We’ll also continue to approve testing to be done at the Virginia Department of Health laboratory based on criteria established by VDH that is designed to identify COVID-19 among individuals who have severe infections or who pose a particular risk to public.

Resources for the Uninsured 

If you do not have an insurer nor primary care physician, and you are concerned that you  have symptoms of COVID-19 that need to be addressed, you can contact Herndon Health Works (703-443-2000). A member of their team will talk to you via phone and determine if your symptoms warrant testing. If you have symptoms, and you are not already using Herndon Health Works as your primary care provider, the person you talk with on the phone will guide you about the appropriate next step you should take. It might be to have a test, or it might be to contact your local emergency room for further advice. Remember, Herndon Health Works is a primary care provider with current patients and limited capacity. It is essential to call first and follow their directions.

Fairfax County 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. 

Coronavirus Symptoms

The symptoms for coronavirus are similar to those of influenza or other respiratory illnesses and include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing

These symptoms may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days after exposure to the virus. Currently, those at elevated risk of exposure are:

  • Close contacts of persons with COVID-19
  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19
  • Travelers returning from affected international or domestic locations where community spread is occurring also are at elevated risk of exposure, with level of risk dependent on where they traveled.

You can also find information on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coronavirus self-checker.

Watch the Video

Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, the Fairfax County Health Department's director of epidemiology and population health, gives you an update on COVID-19 testing.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant