What Is the Coronavirus Test Like? A Doctor Explains COVID-19 Testing

Testing for coronavirus is evolving, but here is what you can expect, according to an ER doctor.

Now that testing kits for COVID-19 are no longer in super-short supply around the country, people are finally getting tested for the illness, especially in the areas of significant outbreak, like Washington state and New York City. But what is the coronavirus test like?

The test starts with collecting a sample, which is done by inserting a thin swab either up the patient's nose or in their mouth to reach the back of the throat—although the former is the ideal method, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While it's unpleasant to have anything shoved in your nose or mouth, the experience may not be as bad as some imagine. "The test is actually very, very similar to the test for influenza," Charles Barbera, MD, the director of emergency medicine at Reading Hospital in Pennsylvania, told a local news station.

After a sample is collected, the swab goes into a liquid-filled tube and is transported to a lab where workers then "evaluate the proteins and chemical composition of the virus to see if it matches that of the coronavirus," Barbera explained. Given the sudden demand, the process usually takes about three to five days, he said.

The access to coronavirus testing has ramped up dramatically in areas hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak, and in many locations, the test is available via drive-thru sites.

Getting tested for COVID-19 is a critical component for managing the outbreak, but overwhelming health care workers does not help. The CDC guidelines encourage anyone who believes they are showing symptoms of coronavirus to get tested first, and not immediately go to local medical facilities, for fear that they will be overrun, preventing those that are seriously ill from getting the immediate medical attention that they need.

The main symptoms of the coronavirus are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath, as well as the loss of your senses of smell and taste, and, in some cases, digestive issues. If you feel like you have symptoms of coronavirus, then, by all means, get tested. You can check with your state or local health department or a medical provider to learn where to go.

Should you test positive, the vast majority of cases are mild and can be treated at home. However, it is a potentially deadly illness and it is far better to be safe than sorry. And for more on coronavirus, check out: Early Coronavirus Symptoms Include Diarrhea, Loss of Appetite, Says Study.