Before you gather with your family and friends for the holidays, make sure you’re spreading joy and not COVID-19. If you plan on gathering indoors with family and friends that are unvaccinated, immunocompromised and/or at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness, it is essential that you are tested for COVID-19 beforehand.
The CDC recommends COVID testing for vaccinated and unvaccinated people in several instances: when an individual is symptomatic, when an individual has come in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and as a screening tool to gauge asymptomatic carriers of the disease.
There are several types of COVID-19 viral tests available now. Viral tests look for active infection, whereas antibody testing determines if someone has ever been infected with COVID-19. With the holidays coming and more Americans traveling and gathering, it can be helpful to understand the types of viral testing available.
COVID-19 Self-Tests for Home Use
Also referred to as home tests, rapid tests or over-the-counter tests, antigen tests help reduce the chances of spreading SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to others. You can use these self-tests regardless of your vaccination status, and whether you have symptoms or not. They are easy to use and produce rapid results, usually within 10 to 15 minutes. These tests are less sensitive than laboratory tests. Along with other risk-reduction measures such as vaccination, masking, and physical distancing, self-tests provide additional assurance to individuals who may be gathering indoors with those not living in their home.
You can purchase a self-test at many drugstores with an average cost of $25 for a two-pack. It is important to follow the instructions exactly when performing the test, and in the order listed, or your test results may be incorrect. Some self-tests recommend you test again within a few days for accuracy. If you test positive for COVID-19, it is important to follow-up with your healthcare provider and isolate yourself to help prevent the spread of disease to others. You can purchase a self-test at many drugstores with an average cost of $25 for a two-pack. It is important to follow the instructions exactly when performing the test, and in the order listed, or your test results may be incorrect. Some self-tests recommend you test again within a few days for accuracy. If you test positive for COVID-19, it is important to follow-up with your healthcare provider and isolate yourself to help prevent the spread of disease to others.
Viral Tests Performed by a Health Provider
Free COVID-19 testing is available at health centers and select pharmacies. In these settings, the healthcare provider may administer a rapid test, as detailed above or a laboratory test. These laboratory tests are a more accurate way to identify COVID-19 infection, especially in symptomatic individuals or as required for traveling. They are the most sensitive type of testing and can be used to confirm a self-test positive result. Because these tests are processed in a lab, it can take up to three days to receive a result.
You can locate a testing site near you by visiting your state, local, tribal or territorial health department’s website. As with the self-test, if your test result shows that you have COVID-19 it is important to take steps to treat your illness and prevent infecting others.
Keeping Holiday Gatherings COVID-Free
Good health is often wished upon others during the holidays and into the new year. Tools are available to you that go beyond wishes, and a plan for the good health of loved ones may in fact be the best gift of all this year. Most of the United States remains at a high level of community spread and as much as we’d like it to be, the pandemic isn’t over. But gathering with fully vaccinated individuals, and with the added protective layer of self-testing, ringing in the new year with good health is more than wishful thinking.
To find out more about COVID-19 and testing, visit Lung.org/covid-19.
Disclaimer: The information in this article was medically reviewed and accurate at the time of posting. Because knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 is constantly evolving, data or insights may have changed. The most recent posts are listed on the EACH Breath blog landing page. You may also visit our COVID-19 section for updated disease information and contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA for COVID-19 questions.
Blog last updated: January 11, 2022