Testing for an active infection
A viral test checks for current infection with the Covid-19 virus. There are 2 types of viral tests that check for the active virus, rapid tests and PCR tests.
Rapid Tests provide fast results but are less sensitive than a PCR test. This means that if you have the beginning stages of an infection and your viral load is still low, the rapid test may not detect this. The rapid test works by checking for presence of proteins that are found on the virus surface.
A PCR test is more sensitive, meaning it can detect presence of the virus even if you have a low viral load at the time of testing. Processing times may take longer, usually around 24-48 hours before a result is returned.
A negative result from a rapid test or PCR test may indicate that you are not infected, but there may still be a chance that you are infected and the virus was not detected by that test.
Interpreting Covid-19 test results
Understand the timeline of Covid-19 infection
What if the test result comes back positive?
- A positive test result indicates you very likely have an infection.
- Stay at home or isolate for 5 days and inform your healthcare provider until no longer symptomatic
- Wear a mask if in contact with others, and take measures like avoiding gatherings to reduce the risk of spreading it to others.
What if the test result is negative but I am experiencing symptoms?
- A negative test result means the test did not detect enough virus, but it does not rule out infection. To increase confidence that you are not infected, repeat the test at least 24 hours later.
Understand the timeline of Covid-19 infection
Where to get tested in LA County
Testing for active infection: Testing, whether at home or at a community testing site, is an important risk-reduction measure that can limit the chances of spreading the Covid-19 virus
Self-tests can be taken to check for current infection, whether you do or do not have symptoms. They can be taken at home or anywhere and produce rapid results.
Call your health care provider for a Covid-19 test. If you are unable to obtain a test from your provider, LA county residents, regardless of immigration status, can sign up for a drive-through or walk-up appointment.
Find a community testing site near you (LA County):
opens in a new windowTesting is currently recommended, regardless of vaccination, if you:
- Have COVID-19 opens in a new windowsymptoms
- Have been a “ opens in a new windowclose contact” to someone with COVID-19 within the last 14 days *If you have had a positive test for COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you do not need to get tested as long as you do not have symptoms of COVID-19.
- Are returning from opens in a new windowinternational travel, even if you are fully vaccinated
- Are part of an outbreak investigation
If you live or work in a place where other people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you may need to be tested, even if you are fully vaccinated or had COVID-19 in the past.
- Are NOT fully vaccinated and
- Work or study in a place where COVID-19 vaccination or regular testing is required
- Participate in opens in a new windoworganized youth sportsopens PDF file , including school sports teams.
- Are a teacher or student in school Traveled outside of California (within the United States).
- Testing is recommended 1-3 days before and 3-5 days after travel.
Free Testing Kits via USPS *Every residential household in the U.S. is eligible for 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests starting 1/18/2022. To request these at-home tests, residents must sign up on COVIDtests.gov ( opens in a new windowhttps://covidtests.gov). Shipping for orders will start in late January.
At-home testing kit through Insurance
- If you have insurance, contact your doctor or local clinic, hospital, or pharmacy about available testing.
- Employers and schools that require testing often have available testing at their facilities.
- If you do not have insurance and are not offered testing through your employer or school, LA County provides free Covid-19 testing through the LA County Home Test Collection program and the Pick-Up Testing Kit program.
LA County Home Test Collection Program – on pause (1/21/22)
At-home nasal swab testing kits are available to LA County residents who have symptoms of Covid-19 or who believe they were exposed to Covid-19.
Home test collection kits are free and can be mailed to your home address within two days after ordering.
To mail-order a test kit, residents must sign up on the Picture by Fulgent Genetics website ( opens in a new windowhttps://picturegenetics.com/covid19?c=lacathome). Guardians and caregivers can order kits for persons they are caring for.
For more information on the Home Test Collection program, please visit opens in a new windowhttps://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/home-test-collection-program/.
Testing Options in LA County
Pick-Up Testing Kit Program
LA County residents are able to pick up a free PCR test kit for Covid-19 and Influenza (A and B) from one of 13 designated sites without an appointment.
Tests are free and can be picked up at a Pick-Up Testing Kit site. Users must register, self-test, and return the completed tests. Results will be available within 24-48 hours.
Residents can pick up a Home Test Kits at selected sites, perform the test at home or in their car, and return the completed test with their sample to the same site.
For more information on the program, including a list of designated sites and hours, visit opens in a new window https://covid19.lacounty.gov/la-county-pick-up-testing-kit-program/.
County of Los Angeles – Covid-19 Testing: opens in a new windowhttps://covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/
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