Testing for COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

This page is being reviewed for updates. The Washington State Department of Health has updated its guidance for what to do if you are sick with COVID-19 or were exposed to COVID-19. This page may have content that is inconsistent with the new guidance.

Accessing Testing Kits

Where can I get a COVID-19 test?

Please try the following options:

  1. Purchase an at-home test at local retailers and pharmacies. If you have Medicaid insurance, you can be reimbursed through September 2024.
  2. Get a test at a testing location near you.
  3. Check if there is a testandgo kiosk near you. DOH offers COVID-19 at-home rapid antigen and self-test PCR kits at no cost.

If you need help finding a testing site near you, check with your local health department or district (webpage is in English only). You may also call the DOH information line at 1-800-525-0127. Language assistance is available.

How do I use my testing kit?

It’s important to follow the instructions that come with the test for the most accurate results. Contact the test manufacturer (their info will be located on the box or the instructions) with any specific questions.

False negatives can occur with any test. If you have COVID-19 symptoms or were exposed and your test result is negative, consider repeat testing. Read the DOH COVID-19 Self-Testing Guidance (PDF) for more details.


Who should get tested?

Test when you feel sick. COVID-19 has a wide range of symptoms, so if you’re not feeling well, it’s best to get tested as soon as possible.

Test when you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Get tested immediately if you’re showing symptoms. If you’re not showing symptoms, wait 3–5 days after the exposure and then test.

For more information, see the COVID-19 Decision Trees for the General Public (PDF).

You should test when you’re going to gather with a group of people, especially those who are at risk of severe disease or may not be up to date on their COVID-⁠19 vaccines.

What happens if I test positive?

Follow DOH’s recommended steps after you test positive for COVID-19 and stay home away from others. For more information, review DOH’s full guidance on what to do if you tested positive for COVID-19. All close contacts should follow the guidance on what to do if you were potentially exposed to COVID-19.

To report a positive at-home COVID-19 test result and access care services, please call the DOH information line at 1-800-525-0127. Language assistance is available.

After being exposed, when will a person test positive?

Once a person is infected with COVID-19, a test may not show the presence of the virus for five days after exposure. So, you could have COVID-19, but the test may not show it for a while. Timing is key for getting an accurate result. If you have been potentially exposed to COVID-19 but do not have symptoms, it is best to get tested 3–5 days after the last potential exposure. If you were exposed and develop symptoms, stay home and away from others and get tested. For more information, read the DOH guidance on what to do if you were potentially exposed to COVID-19 (PDF).

How long do results take?

It depends on the type of test, and where the sample is sent for testing. The results for antigen tests can come back in as quickly as 15 minutes. For PCR tests, it can take several days.

Which test is best to take?

If you haven’t had COVID-19 or a positive test within the last 90 days, you may choose either NAAT tests (such as PCR) or antigen tests (such as at-home test kits). Use whichever test is most easily and quickly available to you. If you use an antigen test and your result is negative, multiple tests may be necessary. Follow the instructions that come with the test kit.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 30 days, testing is not recommended to detect a new infection. If you have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 31–90 days, an antigen test is best for detecting current infections or re-infections. For more information on which test to use given your circumstance, see the CDC COVID-19 Testing Guidance.

Do rapid antigen tests detect COVID-19 variants?

Yes. Research has shown that SARS-CoV-2 variants can still be detected with commercially available rapid antigen tests.

Additionally, the FDA tracks whether tests can still pick up on those variants. To date, the FDA has not found any commercially available tests that fail to detect SARS-CoV-2 variants. You can trust your test to be able to pick up COVID-19 even with different variants.

If you have COVID-19 symptoms and get a negative result on your COVID-19 rapid antigen test, DOH and test manufacturers recommend repeating the test to lower the chances of a false negative test result since the test may not always detect the virus in the early stages. See DOH's COVID-19 Self-Testing Guidance (PDF) for more details.

Should I stock up on tests?

It’s a good idea to have a few tests on hand. Use your best judgement but consider stockpiling more tests than you need blocks access for others who may need them. Also consider expiration dates. If you have many more tests than you need, there is a greater risk of them being expired and unusable before you can use them.