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Testing remains a vital tool in the fight against COVID-19
In addition to providing data on how and where the virus is spreading within our community, testing also helps slow transmission by identifying cases so those individuals can stay home while they are contagious.
If you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, we urge you to get tested as soon as possible, even if you are fully vaccinated.
If you symptomatic and were exposed to someone with COVID-19, but you are unable to obtain a testing appointment or home test kit, stay home and isolate.
When to get tested - UPDATED
Get tested for COVID-19 if you feel sick, whether you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated.
Common symptoms consistent with COVID-19 are:
- Sore throat
- Difficulty breathing
- New loss of taste or smell.
In addition, the following people should get tested for COVID-19:
- people who are currently in isolation for COVID-19 can test on day 5 or later of isolation to determine if isolation can end earlier than 10 days. The first day of symptoms or date of positive test is considered day 0.
- people who have come into close contact with someone with COVID-19 should be tested to check for infection at least 5 days after they last had close contact with someone with COVID-19. The day of last close contact is considered day 0.
- people not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 who have been asked or referred to get testing by their school, workplace, healthcare provider or local health department.
Due to a national shortage of testing supplies, we are only recommending PCR testing for the people who meet the criteria above. If you do not meet this criteria and want to be tested, please use an at home antigen test.
Where to get tested for COVID-19
There are a variety of testing options in Marin County, either through a local healthcare provider, pharmacy, urgent care clinic, community test site or take-home test. Review the list below to find the right testing option for you.
Report the Result of your At-Home / Self-Test
An online form has been developed to be used for reporting the results of COVID-19 testing done in the home to the Marin County Public Health Department. Reporting your test result -- whether positive, negative or inconclusive -- helps Marin County Public Health track the virus around our community to inform our response. Reporting is confidential and takes only a few minutes. Please do not complete this form if you received testing at a healthcare or testing site, only report testing you did yourself at home.
While You're Awaiting Results
- Take steps to help prevent spread, including staying home, practicing physical distancing, wearing a cloth face covering, washing hands frequently, and regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces.
- Quarantine at home for 10 days if you had close contact with someone with COVID-19, even if you have no symptoms. Employees of detention facilities and long-term care facilities who have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days before returning to work. Click here for Home Quarantine Instructions.
- If you are sick, isolate at home until you get your results AND feel better. Click here for Self-Isolation Instructions.
- Get medical help right away if you start feeling sicker, especially if you have trouble breathing, persistent chest pain, begin to feel confused, cannot stay awake, or develop bluish lips or face.
- Call your health provider if your symptoms do not get better in a few days. Tell them you got tested for COVID-19.
Types of COVID-19 tests
There are two different types of tests – diagnostic tests and antibody tests.
Diagnostic tests can detect if you have an active COVID-19 infection and need to take steps to quarantine or isolate yourself from others. Samples for diagnostic tests are typically collected with a nasal or throat swab, or saliva collected by spitting into a tube. There are two common types of diagnostic tests available:
- Molecular tests, also known as a PCR test. The PCR molecular test is the "gold standard" for COVID-19 testing, is considered to be highly accurate and usually does not need to be repeated. Turn around averages 1-3 days, depending on lab processing.
- Antigen tests, commonly known as a "rapid test." With Antigen tests, positive results are usually accurate. Negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test. Turn around is usually very fast, ranging from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the test.
Antibody tests look for antibodies in your immune system produced in response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. An antibody test can show if you were infected by the virus in the past but it cannot be used to diagnose an active COVID-19 infection. Also, current antibody tests are not suitable to measure antibody response to the COVID-19 vaccine.
Test result timing
Getting your test results back varies greatly by the company, provider, and laboratory performing the COVID-19 test and the type of test administered:
- PCR / Molecular tests: On average, you can expect to receive your test results within 2-3 business days. However, some providers may offer expedited results (less than one day).
- Rapid / Antigen tests: Test results are usually available in less than one hour.
Results may be provided to you by phone, email or text message, depending on the provider. You should confirm your preferred communication method when scheduling your test.
Travel and Event Testing
Travel guidelines continue to evolve as new variants emerge. Travel Requirements have changed. Starting December 6, all air passengers, regardless of vaccination status, must show a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 1 day before travel to the United States.
Marin County Public Health strongly recommends monitoring CDPH and CDC travel guidelines frequently for additional changes. Some states and countries require a negative COVID-19 viral test or proof of vaccination before entry. In addition, large events may require a COVID-19 viral test if you are not fully vaccinated. These tests must be completed within 24-72 hours before arrival.
Consult with airlines, destinations, or events several days before arriving. Each entity has unique test requirements and a list of preferred providers that issue acceptable results. Arriving at a gate without acceptable test results can cost you time and frustration.
Not all COVID-19 test providers in Marin County are approved for travel testing, or can guarantee test results in time for travel or event -related testing. Some may provide expedited test results for additional cost. Before scheduling your COVID-19 test, check with your test provider to see if they meet the required test result certification and timelines.
Here are some regional COVID-19 test providers that provide travel-related testing:
Medical and dental procedures
Some healthcare facilities require a negative COVID-19 viral test before undergoing a medical, dental or surgical procedure. This is because most procedures involve close contact between you and your practitioner.
Confirm testing and test result requirements with your medical provider before scheduling your COVID-19 test.
Marin Public Health has a team of "contact investigators" who play a crucial role to stop the spread of COVID-19. When a person tests positive for COVID-19, the team calls the person to gather a list of close contacts who are at high risk of exposure.
Everyone on that list is then contacted to arrange for testing and quarantine. While these close contacts are awaiting test results, they are commonly referred to as a Person Under Investigation (PUI).
In addition to gathering a list of close contacts, the contact investigation team evaluates their symptoms. They also provide information about quarantine and/or isolation to people with COVID-19, close contacts, and members of their households.
Frequently Asked Questions
I'm vaccinated. Do I still need to get tested?
If you feel sick, you should still get tested for COVID-19.
You are fully vaccinated 2 weeks after your final dose. Until those 2 weeks have passed, you should continue to get regularly tested if you work in a high-risk setting or experience frequent contact with the public.
What about false positive testing results?
No test is perfect, yet fortunately false positives are relatively rare. Marin County Public Health will determine that a positive test is a false positive only when
- The initial positive test is a rapid antigen test, and
- A subsequent molecular test (i.e. PCR test, is negative and collected within 24 hours of the initial positive rapid antigen test.
An initial positive PCR result cannot be overturned by subsequent negative PCR tests, even if collected on the same day.
My doctor told me I don't need to isolate or quarantine, but Marin Public Health says I do. What should I do?
Isolation and quarantine are legal public health orders and can't be overturned by your primary care provider. If your doctor disagrees with an isolation or quarantine order, please ask them to contact the state COVID-19 CA Hotline (833)422-4255.