Waiting for your COVID-19 test result? Here’s what you can do

In the past few weeks, we have heard reports of longer wait times to get COVID-19 tests and delays in receiving test results in some instances.  For most labs, the average time from testing to results being available has typically been one to three days, but recently it has been taking five to six days for tests done in some settings.  Healthcare providers (or testers) then report results to patients. Because these are averages, some people may wait longer than these times.

We believe these delays are largely due to both recent increases in the number of people seeking testing for COVID-19 which is creating increasing workloads for laboratories, and limited supplies called reagents needed for COVID-19 laboratory testing. This is an issue nationally, not just in Washington state. Large outbreaks of COVID-19 in areas across the U.S. with high demands for testing are a factor impacting the ability to obtain the needed supplies.

Public Health is working with the Washington Department of Health and regional laboratories and healthcare providers to develop strategies to decrease the time between testing to results and to minimize disruption of the availability of COVID-19 testing locally. Labs are also working hard to increase their staffing and equipment to be able to run more tests.

Importance of testing

While there are shortages and some delays, this should not prevent people from seeking testing. To prevent COVID-19 from spreading to family, friends, and the community, Public Health – Seattle & King County continues to recommend that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or anyone who has been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 seek testing promptly.  If you’re not sure about whether your symptoms might be COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider.

“Access to rapid testing is crucial to identify cases and infected close contacts in order to prevent further spread of illness and in some cases help with medical decisions. Adequate access to testing across our community is necessary for effective public health contact tracing and can also help identify hot spots experiencing higher levels of disease so that we can inform the community on actions to prevent transmission,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“Although testing for COVID-19 in King County has more than doubled since June and continues to increase, we still do not have the number of tests or access throughout the county we think we need. The current national reagent shortage further complicates our ability to meet our expectations.

“Our healthcare partners, Community Health Boards and community organizations are helping us to expand access to testing, and we are actively working with Washington State Department of Health to find laboratories that can provide the volume of testing our community needs.”

Testing is one very important piece of the COVID-19 response. To decrease transmission, illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths we also need to remember the importance of limiting our activities outside of the home, decreasing the number, duration and closeness of contact with others, remembering to always wear a face mask in public, and frequent hand washing.

Free testing

Our list of free testing is updated each Wednesday. Bookmark this link to our map of testing sites to see the most up-to-date list of sites. Call ahead to confirm hours & availability.

If you do not have a healthcare provider or have further questions about testing, call the King County COVID-19 call center between 8 AM – 7 PM PST at 206-477-3977.

What to do while you wait for results

We know it can be concerning and frustrating if you’re not able to get tested quickly or are awaiting testing results.

That said, anyone with symptoms and who thinks they may have COVID-19 or is being tested for COVID-19 should isolate themselves away from others until their result is back and then follow the instructions from your healthcare provider and Public Health. Anyone without symptoms who has been in contact with someone with known or suspected COVID-19 should also quarantine themselves away from others and seek testing for COVID-19.

 Here’s what you can do while you wait:

  • You should keep apart from others, even in your household as much as possible.
  • Use a separate room and bathroom, if possible, until you receive your results.
  • If you have no safe place to stay apart from others, King County can help. Call the COVID-19 Call Center at 206-477-3977. The line is open from 8 AM until 7 PM.
  • Wear a face mask over your nose, mouth, and chin if you must be around other people. You do not need to wear it if you are alone in your room.
  • Wash your hands often, especially after touching items that others in the household may touch.
  • Get rest and stay hydrated.
  • Do not share personal items like drinking glasses, eating utensils, dishes, towels, or bedding.
  • Be ready to help one another. Ask friends or family to do grocery runs or other errands on your behalf until you get your test result back. 

For additional guidance on what to do while you wait for a COVID-19 test, download this flyer. It is also available in Amharic, Arabic, Chinese, Simplified, Chinese, Traditional, French, Khmer, Korean, Marshallese, Russian, Somali, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

Originally published on July 16, 2020.