Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing

Testing for respiratory viruses can help you find out if you are currently infected with a certain respiratory virus, like COVID-19 and the flu. Testing can help you decide what to do next, like getting treatment to reduce your risk of severe illness and taking steps to lower your chances of spreading a virus to others. 

When to Get Tested

Key times to consider testing for COVID-19 include: 

  • If COVID-19 is causing a lot of illness in our community. 
  • If you, or people around you, were recently exposed to a respiratory virus, are sick, or are recovering.
  • Before an event or visiting someone at high 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). 
  • If you are in certain high-risk settings, you may need to test as part of a screening testing program. 

Testing Options

Plan ahead before getting sick so you can be ready to get tested quickly, especially if you  would benefit from treatment.

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 for those  who do not have access to testing options available in the community. Appointments are required. Call 703-246-2411 to schedule a testing appointment.


June 25, 2024: Information for Childcare Facilities and Summer Camps: The Virginia Department of Health program providing free COVID-19 test kits for childcare facilities and summer camps has been extended and will continue through July 2026. Childcare Facilities and Summer Camps administrators can place orders online.

Using At-home COVID-19 Tests

Self-tests, or at-home tests, are antigen tests that can be taken anywhere without having to go to a specific testing site. Read self-test package inserts thoroughly and follow the instructions closely when performing the test.

  • 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. 
  • 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, or are sick with symptoms of a respiratory virus, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and others. Staying home and away from others and then taking additional precautions (such as improving ventilation and wearing a mask) can reduce the spread of respiratory disease.

Treatments are available

Several types of treatment are available, which may be used at different times or in different groups of patients at increased risk for severe illness from respiratory viruses. Treatment can reduce the risk of being hospitalized or dying from the disease, even if their illness is only mild to moderate initially. Treatment for COVID-19 and flu is available only by prescription and must be started within the first few days after symptoms develop to be effective. You will need to get tested to get treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider to get more information about the range of options.

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.  

Testing Resources

While supplies last, 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):

Fairfax Virtual Assistant