We’re now in our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. And with new variants, such as omicron, BA.2 and BA2.12.1, taking over, rapid testing at home is still a crucial tool in keeping ourselves and our communities safe. But rapid testing can also be confusing. And, for people who continue to test positive for coronavirus late into their infection, it may be particularly difficult to know what to do with those results.
While most people who have COVID-19 can expect to see a positive result for five to nine days, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some do test positive for even longer than that. Here’s what you need to know about when to take a COVID-19 rapid test, how to interpret your results and what to know about masking and isolating if you’re still testing positive at 10 days and beyond.
When should you take an at-home COVID-19 test?
In the event that you develop any symptoms that might signal COVID-19, you should take a home test immediately, the CDC says.
Those symptoms — congestion, sore throat, cough, fever — might be easily confused with other common illnesses, such as the flu, allergies or the common cold. But because we are still in the midst of a pandemic, it’s a good idea to take a test to help rule out COVID-19 first, even if there’s a chance you’re just dealing with seasonal allergies.
If you’ve been exposed to a close contact who has COVID-19, you should take a test at least five days after your last contact with that person. And if you test negative, consider taking another test a day or two later to help confirm your results, the CDC suggests.
You can also take a test before attending an indoor gathering, especially if you know you won’t be wearing a mask at that gathering. Taking a rapid test is also helpful prior to spending time with people who are particularly vulnerable to severe COVID-19 symptoms, like those with certain underlying health conditions.
Keep in mind that the government is providing at-home COVID-19 tests to Americans for free. Every household in the U.S. can now order up to eight home rapid tests that get shipped directly to people’s homes. The cost of other rapid tests should be covered by health insurance, and tests may be available at community health centers for people who don’t have insurance.