Testing for COVID-19
People who are part of a high-risk job category can call 303-692-2700 to be directed to a testing facility.
Do you need a test?
Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. People with these symptoms may have COVID-19:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
Anyone with symptoms should get tested, stay away from others and follow the instructions on how to isolate. If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 you should follow the instructions on how to quarantine for 14 days after exposure to prevent further transmission. If you’d like to receive text messages with information about support available during isolation and/or quarantine, report your symptoms to Colorado COVID Symptom Support tool.
In general, you do not need a test if you do not have symptoms. If you think you have been exposed, limit your contact with other people for 14 days after your exposure. However, if you work in a care facility, work at a facility with an outbreak, or you have been in close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, it may be advisable to get a test even if you don’t have symptoms. You should wait at about seven days after the date you think you were exposed before getting tested, unless you develop symptoms.
- Testing immediately after exposure isn’t helpful because it may be too early in the incubation period and there isn’t enough viral material for the test to detect.
- While it’s a good idea to wait at about seven days to be tested after the date of exposure, some people may not become ill for up to 14 days. For that reason, people who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 should minimize their contact with others for 14 days from the date of their exposure, even if they test negative before the full two weeks have passed.
- Coloradans who are sick and receive negative COVID-19 test results should continue to stay home while they are sick and should consult with their healthcare provider about the need for additional testing and the appropriate time to resume normal activities.
What if I am afraid to get tested because of the impacts on my life or job?
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19, it is important for you to know that worker protections are in place to ensure that you can isolate yourself, both for your own health and recovery and for the safety of everyone around you.
Federal law requires up to two weeks paid leave for those who work for employers with fewer than 500 employees (though some employers with 50 or fewer employees may be exempt). The Colorado Health Emergency Leave with Pay Rules (“Colorado HELP Rules”) adds coverage for workers as well. Read more in the FAQ
Additionally, there are many resources available to help you if you need to isolate or quarantine, including help with food and personal financial help.
Where can I get tested?
If you have COVID-19 symptoms, consider a telehealth visit or nurseline advice before seeking in-person care. Ask your primary care provider if they offer telehealth visits, or call one of Colorado’s nurselines.
What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19?
If you have mild symptoms, follow the instructions on how to isolate. If you think you need medical advice, consider a telehealth visit or nurseline advice before seeking in-person care. Medical professionals can help you decide what medications to use to treat your symptoms.
Letters for work must come from a health care provider. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment does not have, and cannot provide, you with a letter clearing you to go back to work Public health does not require people to have a negative test to return to work. If your employer is requiring this, you may want to contact your doctor, or another health care provider, or direct your employer to this website.
Types of tests
A molecular amplification test detects genetic material from a specific virus in patient samples. Most molecular tests for COVID-19 are called PCR tests; however, there are a few other molecular tests that are not called PCR.
PCR is currently the best way to test for current infection with COVID-19.
While this test detects current or recent infection from COVID-19, it is not useful in determining past exposure in fully recovered patients.
An antigenic test can quickly detect fragments of proteins found on or within the virus that causes COVID-19.
The test is similar to a rapid flu test and is performed at the point-of-care by collecting a sample from the nasal cavity using a swab. Results can be obtained in a couple of hours.
While antigen tests can be less expensive and offer fast results, they are not as sensitive as PCR tests.--this means a PCR test might be needed to confirm a negative antigen test. A positive test, however, can be treated as a positive result.
The FDA recently authorized the first COVID-19 antigen test for use in properly certified laboratories, as well as for point-of-care testing in hospitals and urgent care clinics.
A serological test is a blood test that looks for antibodies in your blood. It can detect the body’s immune response to the infection caused by the virus, rather than detecting the virus itself.
While these tests can detect previous exposure to COVID-19, they cannot reliably determine if a patient is currently infected and able to spread the virus to others. We think it might take up to two weeks to develop antibodies to the virus.
Because much is still unknown about how long immunity may last following COVID-19 infection, these tests may give a false sense of safety to patients. We do not yet know whether having antibodies to COVID-19 means that you can’t get sick again.
Some antibody tests may cross react with other respiratory viruses resulting in false positive results--this means the test is detecting antibodies to a different virus, such as one of the common coronaviruses that many people have been exposed to in the past. .
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many companies are distributing rapid serological test kits to detect antibodies in COVID-19 patients. CDPHE discourages the use of any serological test that has not been approved by the FDA or at the state level, for any purpose other than research or surveillance. CDPHE will update this guidance accordingly as more information becomes available. More information about serological testing can be found in CDC’s Interim Guidelines for COVID-19 Antibody Testing.