When should you get a COVID-19 test? Minnesota updates its recommendations

The hope is the new recommendations will help people determine if they need to get tested and what test is best for them.
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The State of Minnesota has updated its recommendations for when people should get a COVID-19 test. 

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on Friday released these new recommendations for the four-week "dial-back" period in hopes of slowing the rate of COVID-19 transmission. 

The state has expanded testing options in recent weeks, so these new testing recommendations are aimed at helping people evaluate when they should get a COVID-19 test and which testing option may be best for them so they 

“Testing is an important tool for slowing the spread of COVID-19 and we are committed to providing no-barrier access for everyone who needs it,” MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said in a statement. “We don’t want people to be confused by their options – it can be difficult to know which test people should take, and when exactly they should take it. Our updated criteria will help people more quickly determine what’s best for them in their situation.”

The State of Minnesota is offering a few different types of free, no-barrier testing options, including nasal and saliva testing at 20 different community testing sites across the state, as well as a mail-order saliva testing option. Meanwhile, dozens of clinics and hospitals across the state also offer COVID-19 tests (sometimes there's a fee or restrictions).

During this dial-back period, Huff said it is important to prioritize workers in industries that remain open. 

“We talk regularly about health care workers as our front-line heroes, but that label also applies to our child care workers, retail and grocery store workers, public safety, and others working to keep our critical infrastructure up and running,” Huff said. “We need them, along with anyone with symptoms or who was exposed to someone who tested positive, to continue having access to reliable and quick testing.”

MDH says by avoiding social gatherings, people can reduce the need for testing due to exposure. This will help maintain the fastest turnaround time possible for those who do need to get tested. 

When should you get a COVID-19 test?

If you have COVID-19 symptoms, go get a test right away, MDH says. Symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, sore throat or loss of taste or smell.

  • If you have mild symptoms, MDH says community testing sites or the state's at-home tests are your best option. If you leave your house to get a test, make sure you wear a mask and stay 6 feet away from other people. 
  • If you're experiencing moderate or severe symptoms, don't visit a community testing site – call your doctor or health care provider or go to the hospital.
  • If you're sick, be sure to stay home (unless getting a test or going to the doctor), wash your hands often, clean often, cover your coughs and sneezes, avoid sharing personal household items like dishes, towels, betting, etc. 
  • MDH recommends staying home and away from others until you get your test results back (more on what to do when you have your results below).

If you were exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested, MDH says. 

  • It's best to get tested at least five days after the last time you were close to the person with COVID-19. If you get tested too early, the test may not detect the virus. 
  • If you were exposed – whether you have symptoms or not – you need to stay home and isolate for 14 days after your last contact with the person with COVID. This is because it can take several days for the virus to be detectable in your system or for you to develop symptoms. 
  • The free at-home COVID test is probably your best option for getting tested, especially if you're early in your 14-day exposure window, MDH says. You can also visit a community testing site for free test– be sure to make an appointment (if there aren't any available at the location closest to you, look at a later date or find a different location). 
  • If you test negative and you don't have symptoms, you still have to quarantine for the full 14 days because you could still become sick and could spread COVID-19 without knowing it. 

If you work at a place that is still open during the state's four-week closure, you should get tested, MDH says, noting it's part of the state's screening testing strategy. 

  • MDH says first responders, health care workers, retail workers, child care workers, etc. should make a plan to get tested for COVID-19 before Dec. 18. If possible, get tested once near the beginning of the four-week "dial back" period and once near the end. 
  • MDH recommends this even if you don't have symptoms or weren't exposed to COVID-19 because you're still at risk for catching and spreading the virus given how quickly it is spreading through communities.
  • MDH says making an appointment in advance at a community testing site (if they're all booked, look for a location a little farther away from you) or ordering an at-home test are your best options. 

If you don't have symptoms, haven't been exposed or haven't been recommended to get tested, you can still get a test, MDH says. 

  • If this is your circumstance, you can go get a COVID-19 test at a community testing site via appointment or by using the at-home saliva test. Unlike in the other scenarios, though, you don't have to stay home until you get the result. That being said, MDH recommends you limit social interactions and follow other COVID safety protocols (wear a mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, wash your hands) given the high community spread of the virus. 

MDH is urging people who plan to use the community testing sites to make an appointment ahead of time. The sites do take walk-ups, but that should only be used if you need a test that very day. 

"Too many people coming without an appointment can create long lines and increase potential for unsafe in-person gatherings," MDH says, noting testing sites in greater Minnesota and outer suburbs have more open appointments than those closer to the Twin Cities, so looking for an appointment at a testing site farther away is a good option to consider. 

I got my results, now what? 

If you test positive and you have symptoms, MDH says a public health worker will contact you with more information, but you'll need to stay home until all these things happen: 

  • You feel better and your symptoms have improved.
  • It's been 10 days since you first felt sick.
  • You haven't had a fever for at least 24 hours without using fever-reducing medicine. 

If you test positive and you don't have symptoms, MDH says you need to stay home for at least 10 days after getting tested. A public health worker will contact you with more information. 

If you test negative but you had close contact with someone who tested positive, you still need to stay home for 14 days from the day of your last contact with that person. This is because if you get tested too early after being exposed, the test may have not detected the virus, with MDH noting it can take up to two weeks for a person who has been exposed to get sick. 

If you test negative and you have symptoms, talk to your doctor and follow their advice. If you aren't diagnosed with something else, you should still stay away from work, school and public places until you're feeling better. 

If you test negative and you don't have symptoms, you don't have to stay home, but be sure to continue to follow COVID-19 safety precautions and get tested again if you develop symptoms or are exposed to someone with COVID-19. 

For more information, visit MDH's website here

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