When should you get a Covid test and where can you get one?

Anyone can now get tested for coronavirus.
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  • Over the last few months, the government's testing system - either in person or through the post - has seen over 15 million people swabbed for the virus.

    But for those who haven’t been advised to be tested yet, it can be difficult to know when you should get a Covid test and how to get one, whether or not you want to go to a testing site.

    Especially as, over the last few weeks, some areas of the country have seen a significant decrease in the availability of on-site testing. In early September, it was reported that those looking to be tested for coronavirus in London were being sent over 100 miles away to supposedly their nearest testing site in Cardiff or on the Isle of Wight.

    READ MORE: Back to school: What safety measures are in place and how can children protect themselves?

    Speaking to Sky News last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “At the moment the system works well. Of course there are operational challenges from time to time but it works well.

    “And we are finding a higher and higher proportion of people in the country who have coronavirus and getting them tests so they can be looked after.

    “But absolutely, we need to roll out more testing – we have done throughout the crisis and today’s another step in solving some of those problems with the existing technology.”

    The statement from the health secretary came as the system was criticised for the lack of availability, as it’s believed that many people wouldn’t travel so far to be tested. This in turn could lead to spikes in infection rates being missed in some areas not identified as being at risk for a local lockdown.

    So if you think you might have coronavirus, the best thing to do is get a test and find out whether you have to self-isolate straight away to protect those who you might come into contact with.

    When should you get a Covid test?

    To prevent the testing system being overwhelmed, it’s important that you don’t arrange to get tested for Covid unless you start to have symptoms. The most important ones to look out for currently are a new and continuous cough, high temperature, a loss of or change in normal taste or smell.

    To reduce the potential number of people you spread the virus to if you test positive, it’s important to get a test done within the first five days of showing symptoms. You, your household and support bubble must then stay at home until you receive the results.

    All adults and children in the UK who do display symptoms are able to get tested and you do not need to consult your GP or any medical professional before ordering one.

    Essential workers are still the highest on the priority list to receive a test for Covid, but now much of the testing for NHS staff, care home staff and residents takes place at their places of work rather than separate testing sites.

    What is a new and continuous cough?

    woman coughing - when to get tested for covid

    Credit: Getty

    A new and continuous cough is defined by the NHS as “coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual).”

    As one of the main symptoms of coronavirus, it’s important to know whether your cough fits the description.

    Other important symptoms to note include: 

    • A high temperature: You “feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature).”
    • A loss or change to your smell or taste: This means “you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal”.

    Where to get tested for coronavirus today: find your nearest testing site

    The quickest place to get tested for Covid-19 is at the testing site closest to you and you can find one on the government website. You’ll be asked to fill in some personal details about yourself, such as you name and address, in order for the response team to contact you about your result.

    If you opt to go to a testing site, this video explains how the process will work.

    Currently, the testing website is overrun with applications and many testing site areas are fully booked following a sudden rise in cases around London and other parts of the UK.

    The government hopes that by drastically increasing the number of people able to get tested for the coronavirus, they will be able to further improve the test and trace strategy and in turn, work to reduce the number of people diagnosed.

    How to order a Covid test

    COVID swab kit - how to order a test

    Credit: Getty

    If you can’t or don’t want to go to a testing site, then you can order a test to your home which you return by post, via the government’s website. The test arrives as a home swab kit, which you then use following the instructions inside the kit and return to your closest priority post box one hour before the final collection. You must aim to complete the test within 48 hours of delivery.

    It’s also important to bear in mind that the tests above are only testing if you have Covid-19 currently – an antibody test is needed to see if you have had coronavirus in the past, and so may have some immunity.

    With children now back at school in the UK, although they are wearing masks in some cases, it’s important that any child showing symptoms is kept at home and if necessary, a test is ordered for them and those in their household and support bubble.

    When will the results come back?

    If you order a COVID test to your home, you can expect the results realistically within 72 hours. If you need your results quicker than that, the best thing to do is to find your local test site and go there as results come back within 48 hours.

    Once you receive your results, if they are negative then you don’t have to do anything. But if they are positive then it’s important that the people you’ve come into contact with are aware that they could also have the virus.

    This is where the government’s test and trace system comes into play. They will contact you and ask who you’ve been in contact with recently, where you’ve gone and for any necessary contact details.

    The government’s contact team will then inform all the relevant people that they need to self isolate.