All of your COVID testing questions answered

HOUSTON – Doctors and government leaders are urging us to get tested for COVID-19 even if we don’t have any symptoms. With dozens of businesses, hospitals and pharmacies offering different types of tests for varying prices, it’s tough to decide where to go.

United Memorial Medical Center Chief of Staff Dr. Joseph Varon is on the front lines, treating patients battling the coronavirus every day. He answered our questions about which tests are best to detect the virus.

Q: Who should get tested?

A: There’s no question that everyone should be tested. Everyone.

Q: If people have no symptoms, how often should they be tested and why?

A: People with no symptoms should be tested every month.

Varon says that 48% of people who have tested positive at UMMC had no symptoms at all.

“And yes, they may have no problem,” Varon explained. “But the problem is that they are surrounded by other persons and they are spreading it. They are what we call the super spreaders.”

If you knew you had COVID-19, Varon said you would probably quarantine, wear a mask and be more careful not to expose others.

Q: What kind of test should you get?

A: “The most reliable tests are the ones where you put a swab inside the nose and you look for particles of the virus or evidence the virus has been there.”

This is called a PCR test. It’s the gold standard when it comes to coronavirus testing. The results take between 24 and 36 hours because medical workers take the particulates in your nose from the swab and amplify them to determine if you have traces of the virus in your nasal passages.

This is the only test that is mandated free by the federal government.

Q: How accurate are rapid tests?

A: Varon said rapid tests, even if taken with a nasal swab, have proven to be inaccurate about 20% of the time. When wrong, they most often give a false negative reading.

“If it’s positive- great,” said Varon. “At least you have an answer right away. But if it’s negative, you can not be 100% sure that you’re negative.”

COVID-19 tests available:

PCR Nasal Swab (non-rapid test)

  • Most reliable
  • Only test mandated free
  • Results come back in 24 to 36 hours.

Rapid Nasal Swab Test

  • Average 20% false-negative readings
  • Usually $150 & up
  • Results come back in as little as 15 minutes

Saliva and mouth swab tests

  • Average 30% chance of false-negative readings.
  • Varon says the virus lives in the back of your nose. Saliva and mouth swabs can easily miss the tint particles in your nose.
  • Some are free.

Antibodies finger prick test

  • Inaccurate 50% of the time, according to Varon.
  • The most unreliable test to determine if you are or have been infected with COVID-19.
  • Not free

Q: I went to my doctor for a PCR test, but I was charged. Why?

A: It could be because you were given other tests in addition to the COVID test. Varon said if you have symptoms, doctors may give you other tests to determine exactly what is causing them.

To avoid surprise charges, Varon says you should ask in advance.

“You should ask, ‘Am I gonna be charged for anything? Am I only being tested for Covid? Or are you gonna test me for other things?’” he said.

You can find a place to get tested here. Sites change daily. Where ever you, you should ask:

What type of test am I taking?

When will I get the results?

Will I be charged anything for this test?

Will my insurance company be charged for this test?

Are you testing me for anything other than COVID-19?