Disclaimer: At UPMC HealthBeat, we strive to provide the most up-to-date facts in our stories when we publish them. We also make updates to our content as information changes. However, education about COVID-19 can shift quickly based on new data, emerging variants, or other factors. The information in this story was accurate as of its publish date. We also encourage you to visit other reliable websites for updated information, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and your state and local governments.
Note: If you are experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms without breathing problems, or if you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, the best way for you to get tested at UPMC is by visiting one of our UPMC Collection Center testing sites or UPMC Urgent Care locations.
The UPMC Emergency Department is not the place to get a COVID-19 test unless you are experiencing breathing problems or other severe symptoms. Test results do not come back more quickly by coming to the Emergency Department. For more information on COVID-19 testing, please visit UPMC.com.
COVID-19, the disease caused by novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, has spread worldwide since late 2019.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19, or if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, it is important to get tested. Testing is the only way to confirm a COVID-19 diagnosis and begin treatment.
Find out more about what the coronavirus test entails.
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What Are the Tests for COVID-19?
There are two main COVID-19 tests: a viral test and an antibody test.
COVID-19 viral test
There are two types of viral tests, known as diagnostic tests. UPMC uses the molecular test, also known as the Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT), which checks for the coronavirus’ genetic material. The other diagnostic test, known as the antigen test detects specific proteins on the virus’ surface.
At UPMC, the viral test for the coronavirus involves a “nasopharyngeal” swab. The health care worker inserts a thin device into the nasal cavity to collect a sample from the back of the nose and throat. Samples can be collected from other sites, such as the throat or saliva, but UPMC uses the nasopharyngeal swabs.
The collected samples are then sent to a laboratory to be checked for coronavirus. Most results are available within two to four days.
You can take a viral test in many different locations, including testing centers, laboratories, or even your home. Learn more about testing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
COVID-19 antibody test
An antibody test checks for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in your blood.
The antibody test may tell if you had already been infected. However, COVID-19 antibody testing is not 100% accurate. It can take one to three weeks post-infection for antibodies to form, so an antibody test should not be used to diagnose a current infection.
Learn more about antibody testing from the CDC.
Who Is Eligible for a COVID-19 Test?
At UPMC, we are testing individuals who are sick with suspected COVID-19. In select circumstances, asymptomatic patients are screened to see if they are carrying the virus.
To get tested at one of UPMC’s collection centers, patients need a referral from a doctor or an appointment. Walk-in testing is not currently available.
UPMC offers asymptomatic screening to patients before some in-hospital procedures. Ask your doctor or surgeon if pre-screening is offered or required for your procedure.
According to the CDC, in addition to people with symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested if you were exposed to someone with COVID-19:
- If you are fully vaccinated, you should get tested five to seven days after your last exposure.
- If you are not fully vaccinated, you should get tested immediately. If the test comes back negative, you should get another test five to seven days after your last exposure.
If you have a known exposure to someone with confirmed COVID-19, you may be able to request a test at a Pennsylvania location close to you.
Where Can I Get Tested for COVID-19?
UPMC offers testing at several specimen collection sites throughout Pennsylvania. You will need a referral from a doctor or an appointment at the collection center to get tested. UPMC does not offer walk-in testing.
UPMC Urgent Care also offers COVID-19 testing for symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. You must have a doctor’s referral and schedule an appointment online to get tested.
More details on testing can be found on the Allegheny County or Pennsylvania Department of Health websites.
Please note: Unless you are experiencing severe symptoms like breathing problems, the UPMC Emergency Department is not the place to get a COVID-19 test. The best way for you to get tested for COVID-19 at UPMC if you are experiencing mild symptoms is by visiting one of our UPMC Collection Center testing sites or UPMC Urgent Care locations. Test results do not come back more quickly by coming to the Emergency Department. For more information on COVID-19 testing, please visit UPMC.com.
Have a referral from your doctor? Schedule your appointment online now at UPMC Urgent Care.
What Should I Do After Getting Tested for COVID-19?
At UPMC, we treat symptomatic patients as “presumed positive” for COVID-19 until we receive their test results. While you wait for results, stay at home and avoid close contact with others.
If you were tested through UPMC and your doctor referred you for the test, he or she will call you with the results — or check for results on your MyUPMC account. If you do not have a UPMC doctor, the central COVID-19 team will contact you. You also can check with your primary care doctor.
If you test positive for COVID-19, your doctor will give you care instructions.
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, stay at home and avoid close contact with others until talking to your doctor. If at any time you experience life-threatening symptoms — such as high fever or difficulty breathing — go to the emergency department, but call ahead if possible.
For more information on UPMC’s COVID-19 testing procedures, visit UPMC.com/COVID19.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
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Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 800 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, West Virginia, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. We are dedicated to providing Life Changing Medicine to our communities.