It can take anything from a few hours to several days to receive COVID-19 test results. The length of time will vary depending on the type of test and where it took place.
The novel coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2, is very contagious. Some people who catch SARS-CoV-2 develop coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which affects the respiratory system.
Most people who contract the virus will experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, some people will develop severe COVID-19, which can sometimes be fatal. Older people and those with underlying health conditions are at the highest risk.
The test can tell people whether they currently have an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people should get a SARS-CoV-2 test if:
- they have the symptoms of COVID-19
- they have spent at least 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2
- their doctor has recommended a test
Everyone in the United States can get a free test, regardless of immigration status.
How long it takes to get the results of a COVID-19 test varies. In most cases, it takes a few days to a week.
The time frame can depend on the state and area in which a person undergoes testing. The county of Los Angeles aim to get the results to people within 3–5 days. The Virginia Department of Health have said that it will take a few days, and the Minnesota Department of Health have said several days.
The best way to find out how long it will take in any particular area is to go to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) website and look at the “search by state” option. People can then follow the links to see the local COVID-19 testing policy, which will include the length of time they can expect to wait for the results.
If someone is in the hospital with suspected COVID-19, doctors will ask for a point of care (POC) test, which can deliver results within minutes. However, POC testing for COVID-19 may not detect all active infections and can deliver false negatives, making the results unreliable.
Scientists are not yet sure of the answer to this question.
The incubation period — the length of time between getting the infection and showing symptoms — could be up to 14 days.
The current advice is that anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus should get a test.
The symptoms to look out for include:
- fever or chills
- sore throat
- extreme tiredness
- shortness of breath
- body aches
- muscle aches
- loss of taste or smell
- runny or stuffy nose
- nausea and vomiting
To test for SARS-CoV-2, scientists need a sample of the mucus from the inside of a person’s nose. Sometimes, a healthcare professional will collect the sample. In other cases, the person will collect the sample themselves.
The CDC have published instructions for people who need to collect the sample themselves.
According to their guidance, a person should follow these steps:
- Open the kit and read the instructions.
- Wash the hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Take the swab from the container without touching the soft end.
- Tilt the head back.
- Push the swab gently about 1–1.5 inches into the nostril or until it can go no further.
- Twist the swab slowly for 15 seconds, rubbing it on the inside of the nostril.
- Remove the swab.
- Using the same swab, repeat the process in the other nostril.
- Put the swab into the sterile tube.
- Snap the end of the swab at the line, then put the cap on the tube.
- Wash the hands again.
Testing is available free of charge at health centers and community testing sites. Some pharmacies are also offering SARS-CoV-2 tests, including:
- CVS Health
- Rite Aid
To find a local testing facility, people can go to the HSS website and use the search function.
The length of time it takes to receive COVID-19 test results varies across the U.S. On average, it tends to take between a few days and a week.
If someone has a COVID-19 test in the hospital, they will usually get the result the same day.
Anyone in the U.S. who has symptoms of COVID-19 or has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 should get a test.
Tests are available for free from health centers, community testing sites, and some pharmacies.