Your COVID-19 Questions Answered
Over a month has passed since Governor Pritzker issued his stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The effects of the virus have stretched from public health into the state’s economic well-being; loosening restrictions in place hinges on the severity of the virus on the Illinois populace.
As of April 23rd, Illinois has tested 173,316 individuals, of which 36,934 (or 21.3%) tested positive for the coronavirus. 1,688 (or 4.6% of those that tested positive) have died from the virus.
With much of the focus regarding COVID-19 on testing capabilities, the Center has put together an FAQ sheet to address your COVID-testing needs.
What does testing involve?
There are two main types of testing: Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests and serologic tests. PCR tests involve a lot of processing which we won’t get into. Here’s the important thing: PCR tests require some genetic material from the virus, meaning you’ll need a nasal swab to catch some live virus in your nose or throat. This type of test will detect whether or not the virus is present in the patient, i.e. an infection. Meanwhile, serological tests come in two main varieties. Antibody tests screen for specific antibodies in the patient that would pop up in response to the virus. This doesn’t necessarily show that the patient currently has the virus; it indicates that the patient has been exposed to the virus at some point, was likely infected and now is immune to re-infection. The second type of serology test detects antigens - which are indicative of an active infection, though this test is typically not as accurate as PCR tests.
If you’re interested in learning more about these tests, check out this piece from Forbes.
Should I be tested?
As of right now, testing is mostly reserved for several “high priority” groups:
- Those requiring hospitalization, i.e., those whose symptoms are severe enough to require medical care, and those already hospitalized for other reasons
- Health care and public safety workers
- Staff and residents in “congregate care settings serving vulnerable populations,” like nursing homes, assisted living centers or homeless shelters
Testing capacity is currently limited, albeit growing. If you aren’t in any of the high priority groups mentioned above, but you are a member of a vulnerable group (e.g. pregnant, over the age of 60, living with a pre-existing condition), you should call your primary care physician. CDPH has a handy chart to self-evaluate here.
If you display symptoms but don’t require hospitalization, experts and health care professionals ask you to first contact your primary care physician and then self-quarantine for seven days plus at least three days as your symptoms subside. For instance, if you have a fever, spend as little time as possible outdoors or with other individuals while the fever persists. When it begins to drop, take a few extra days to make sure your health has improved before ending your quarantine. Remember: Your physician will have a better idea whether you need testing or not. IDPH has more info here.
What are the virus’ symptoms?
At this time, IDPH is actually asking individuals feeling ill to not request testing (due to the testing limitations mentioned above) unless you experience severe respiratory symptoms or have mild symptoms and are a member of a vulnerable population. The symptoms include:
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle soreness
- The chills and related shaking
- Newly acquired loss of taste or smell
Can I get tested if I don’t have insurance?
Yes, testing for COVID-19 is free for those with or without insurance. However, treatment is not free at this time.
Where is testing done?
Hospitals and health clinics (local ones and branches of groups like Physicians Care) make up the bulk of sites where samples (swabs, blood collection tubes, etc.) are collected. There are also drive-through and express sites popping up across the state. IDPH has a semi-comprehensive list of testing/collection sites here. Test results are generated in commercial and hospital labs for the most part. New tests are just now coming on stream that can be run at the “Point of Care” (POC), meaning doctors’ offices, clinics and eventually at work and retail locations like Walgreens, Walmart, etc.
How long does it take to get results?
Getting results depends on the test and the testing site. Some tests have results within a few days or even a few minutes. For the most part, tests can take up to two weeks to yield results due to high demand. NPR has an explainer on test results here.
Am I at risk of catching the virus even if I tested negative?
Here’s what the CDC has to say:
"If you test negative for COVID-19, you probably were not infected at the time your specimen was collected. However, that does not mean you will not get sick. It is possible that you were very early in your infection when your specimen was collected and that you could test positive later. Or you could be exposed later and then develop illness. In other words, a negative test result does not rule out getting sick later.”
Do you have more questions?
If you still need more information, there’s a state-sponsored COVID-19 hotline, 1-800-889-3931, which offers some guidance, like how testing works. The hotline is available in English and Spanish. You can also email IDPH if you have specific questions here: DPH.SICK@illinois.gov.
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