Testing for COVID-19

Last updated July 2, 2021.

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   Testing for COVID-19 



If you have COVID-19 symptoms or a known exposure to someone who is positive for COVID-19 and want to get tested, Colorado sponsors more than 80 free community testing sites throughout the state. These sites do not require identification, insurance, or a doctor’s note. Use the map and list below to find a free community test site near you.

Tip: Click on the small rectangle with an arrow to see a color coded map legend.

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Free community testing sites list (PDF)

Free Testing at Select Pharmacies

If you have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19, you may also obtain a free COVID-19 test at Walgreens and other select pharmacies in Colorado. View this PDF list of free pharmacy testing sites to find a site near you. Testing at these sites is free to all. Photo ID will be required to obtain a COVID-19 test through this program. Proof of insurance may be requested during registration, but is not required.

Visit the US Health and Human Services Covid-19 testing website for more information. 

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

  • Cough

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headache

  • New loss of taste or smell

  • Sore throat

  • Congestion or runny nose

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

Anyone with symptoms should get tested as soon as possible, stay away from others, and follow the instructions on how to isolate.

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, wait until at least 5 days have passed since the date you think you were last exposed before getting tested, unless you develop symptoms. Follow the instructions on how to quarantine after exposure to prevent further transmission.  

  • 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.

  • 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 monitor themselves for symptoms of COVID-19, even if they test negative before the full two weeks have passed.

  • Quarantining for a full two weeks is recommended if you have close contact with high risk individuals or live or work in a congregate setting.

  • If you do not develop symptoms, there are options to shorten your quarantine period using a combination of symptom monitoring and testing if you do not have contact with high risk individuals.

  • If your test is positive, begin isolation for 10 days.

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.

What if I have tested positive before?
  • If you have tested positive more than 90 days ago, you should be retested using the recommendations above for those with and without symptoms.

  • If you have tested positive by PCR within the last 90 days, more than likely you do not need to be retested. In some rare circumstances, such as in individuals with compromised immune systems and in people who have a new exposure to a COVID-19 case and develop new symptoms, retesting within 90 days may be recommended. Please consult with a healthcare provider to determine your need for retesting.

  • If you have tested positive by PCR within the last 90 days, you do not need to quarantine after re-exposure to a COVID-19 case within that 90 day period.

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.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you may benefit from effective treatments that decrease the risk for severe disease by half. Learn more about these treatments and who is eligible for them.

Letters for work must come from a health care provider. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment does not have to, 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

Molecular-based testing:
  • 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.  

  • PCR molecular tests are processed in a lab and can take several days to return results.

  • While this test detects current or recent infection from COVID-19, it is not useful in determining past exposure in fully recovered patients.


Antigenic Testing
  • 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 usually performed at the point-of-care by collecting a sample from the nasal cavity using a swab. Most antigen tests return results in approximately 15 minutes.

  • While antigen tests can be less expensive and offer fast results, they are not as sensitive as PCR tests.This means a PCR test may be needed to confirm a test result in some situations.

  • 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.

  • For health care providers: Questions and answers about antigen testing.


Serological testing:
  • 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.

COVID-19 testing at homeless service sites