The viral test, which detects current infections of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19), is performed through a nasopharyngeal swab inserted deep into the nose or, in certain situations, the throat. Results are available and shared with patients 1-3 days after the test is performed. Until the results are in, patients should stay home and wait for further instructions to avoid potentially spreading the virus to others.
The antibody test, which may determine whether a patient has had a previous infection of the virus, is used to detect specific proteins, called antibodies, that the body makes in response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Antibodies are often found within the blood of patients who have already recovered from past infections, indicating an immune response to the virus. In this test, a blood sample is taken and sent to a lab, with results available in 1-3 days. This test is most accurate when at least 14 days have passed since the patient last experienced symptoms.
During a clinic or telemedicine visit, clinicians can evaluate patients for whom COVID-19 is suspected. Telemedicine patients may be asked to come to their nearest clinic for testing. Providers will also consider and test for other causes of respiratory illness, such as influenza.
Viral Test Results
If a patient’s results are positive in a viral test, that means he or she most likely has a current, active COVID-19 infection. Follow instructions from your provider about isolation, when to leave home and if/when to seek additional medical help.
If a patient tests negative in a viral test, he or she most likely does not have an active COVID-19 infection, though there is a possibility the result is a false negative. Continue taking steps to protect yourself and prevent spread of the virus.
Antibody Test Results
Results from antibody testing should not be used as the sole basis to diagnose or exclude COVID-19 infection. Because this virus is new and still being studied by scientists and medical professionals, antibody testing results should not be used to inform infection status.
If a patient’s antibody results come back positive, this means that he or she is likely to have had a past COVID-19 infection. A positive test may, however, be due to past or present infection with non-SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus strains, such as coronavirus HKU1, NL63, OC43 or 229E. There is also a possibility of a false positive if it’s unlikely the patient has had COVID-19 based on exposure history or symptoms.
If antibody results come back negative, this indicates a patient likely has never had (or not yet developed antibodies to) a COVID-19 infection. Negative test results do not rule out current COVID-19 infections, especially if the patient has been in contact with the virus. Viral testing should be considered to rule out current infections in patients who test negative but have been in contact with the virus. Ask your health care provider about this test.
Plan Your Visit
For assessment of symptoms and next-step direction, set up a virtual visit with a medical professional through Mercy’s telemedicine services. Patients coming to a Mercy Urgent Care clinic should call upon arrival in the parking lot to check in for a visit. To make a virtual appointment with a medical provider from home, click here.
For those in need of non-respiratory medical attention, Mercy Urgent Care is still seeing patients for other illness, injury and work-related testing or exams. (Click here for more information about regular urgent care visits and new, safe patient procedures.)