FAQs on Coronavirus Diagnostic and Antibody Testing

What are the different types of COVID-19 tests and what do they all mean?

Man wearing mask gets tested for COVID-19 at drive-through medical facility with nurse administering coronavirus test.

What are the different types of COVID-19 tests and what do they all mean?

Because of the rapid developments in testing, there has been some confusion around the different types of COVID-19 tests being offered.

Here is what you need to know about testing being offered at Scripps Health:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) test

What is a coronavirus test?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a COVID-19 test called a nasopharyngeal swab, which checks samples from your respiratory system (such as swabs of the inside of the nose) to tell you if you currently have an infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

How does coronavirus testing work?

A care provider in protective gear will ask about your symptoms and take your temperature. They will then put a special 6-inch cotton swab up both sides of your nose and move it around for about 15 seconds. It won’t hurt, but it might be uncomfortable. We then test the fluid on the swab to detect the presence of the virus.

How can I get tested for COVID-19?

If you are a Scripps patient and have COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, please start by calling our nurse line at 888-998-1613. Or you can use one of our virtual care options.

Testing has been expanding for pediatric patients who have mild COVID-19 symptoms and have had them for more than 72 hours. Call your physician’s office or our nurse line at 888-998-1613 to make an appointment.

Scripps health care workers who have been experiencing mild and moderate symptoms of COVID-19 for more than 72 hours and believe they may have been exposed to COVID-19 within the past several days should also arrange to be tested. 

Beyond the testing expansion for pediatric patients and heath care workers, Scripps is only testing people with moderate symptoms of COVID-19, especially those who are at higher risk. This includes older adults; and patients with compromised immune systems or chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease and chronic kidney or liver disease. If it is medically necessary for you to be tested, Scripps will test you.

For all others, the County of San Diego and the State of California have multiple testing sites throughout San Diego. The highest priority for the County of San Diego testing sites remains to test groups and individuals with COVID-19 infection symptoms, followed by asymptomatic people in high-risk groups or settings which include:

  • High-risk symptomatic individuals
  • People exposed to infected individuals in places where COVID-19 risk is high
  • Healthcare workers, first responders, other social service employees, and people in other essential jobs
  • People considered part of vulnerable populations
  • Older adults
  • People with underlying medical conditions
  • Caretakers of older adults or those with underlying medical conditions

For information on County of San Diego testing, call 2-1-1 or make an appointment online at coronavirus-sd.com/testing. For State of California testing locations and eligibility, call 888-634-1123 from 7 am - 7 pm, Monday - Friday, or visit lhi.care/covidtesting.

Can the COVID-19 test ever produce false negatives?

False negatives are an issue with any test. This may be because the amount of the virus in your sample is so low, it can’t even be detected or because not enough of your sample was taken for an accurate reading.

“At Scripps, we are well aware of the potential for false negatives, and our strategy has been to use universal precautions, in that all health care workers in our system wear a surgical mask while in a patient care area, wear fresh gloves with every patient, and perform meticulous hand hygiene,” says Ghazala Sharieff, MD, MBA, Scripps chief medical officer, clinical excellence and experience. “Also, if we have a strong suspicion for COVID, we don’t rely on a single negative test and we retest as needed.”

What happens after I get tested for coronavirus?

A positive COVID-19 test means you currently have or recently had the virus. Monitor your symptoms and get medical help right away if you have trouble breathing, confusion, or bluish lips or face.

Learn more about taking steps to avoid spreading the virus.

If you test negative for COVID-19, you probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected. However, that does not mean you will not get sick. It is possible that you were very early in your infection when your sample was collected and that you could test positive later. Or you could be exposed later and then develop illness. In other words, a negative test result does not mean you won’t get sick later. This means you could still spread the virus.

Coronavirus antibody testing

What is COVID antibody testing?

Commonly referred to as “antibody testing,” “antigen testing” or “serology” — this test is not used to diagnose COVID-19. Rather, it is a blood test to determine if you have been exposed to COVID-19 at any point in the past — in which case your body would have created antibodies in response to the infection. An antibody is a protein made by our bodies in response to an infection. Once created, antibodies typically help the body fight off an infection.

How do I get the COVID antibody test?

Scripps Health currently is offering antibody testing in very limited circumstances. Antibody testing requires an order from a physician. Patients with questions about antibody testing should contact their doctor.

Is there any benefit to COVID-19 serology test?

There is still much uncertainty about the value and use of testing for antibodies related to the new coronavirus.

The CDC is still studying and determining the exact benefits to antibody testing. The antibody test provides an estimate of how many people have been infected in order to determine how many in the public remain at risk. This may help with trends and future predictions about the progression of the pandemic.

“Having antibodies to the virus does not guarantee a person will not contract it again. We just don’t know enough about this virus yet,” says Dr. Sharieff.

COVID-19 Plasma Infusion Study

What is plasma infusion for coronavirus?

The COVID-19 plasma study is a relatively new clinical study that offers treatment to critically ill COVID-19 patients. This is not a diagnostic test or an antibody test. Scripps is the first health care provider in San Diego County to use an experimental therapy as a possible treatment for COVID-19 patients.

How does plasma infusion work?

Convalescent plasma therapy takes plasma donated by someone who has recovered from COVID-19 and transfuses it into a hospitalized patient currently battling a serious COVID-19 infection.

“The idea behind the treatment is that people who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus when transfused into patients with serious, active disease,” says Dr. Sharieff. “The hope is that the plasma will be helpful to very sick COVID-19 patients and speed their recovery.”

While the therapy is still experimental, the FDA is allowing physicians to use plasma from recovered patients to treat those with “serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections” under an emergency approval system.

Is this treatment working so far?

“Plasma therapy treatment is relatively new, and we are studying its benefits every day,” says Dr. Sharieff. “So far, initial results for Scripps Health patients appear to be promising.”

How do I donate convalescent plasma?

If someone you know has tested positive for COVID-19 and recovered, they are likely eligible to donate plasma. The American Red Cross recently started a national program to collect and distribute plasma, and current supply is low. Plasma can also be donated through the Scripps Bone Marrow Transplant/Apheresis program by contacting Michelle Meyer at meyer.michelle@scrippshealth.org.

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