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Should I get a covid-19 test before thanksgiving?

  • The CDC has advised Americans not to travel or gather with multiple households this year

Across the U.S. many people are seeking Covid-19 tests before traveling or attending Thanksgiving celebrations. Primary, urgent-care and public-testing facilities have reported long lines for tests and a paucity of appointments in the lead-up to the holiday, and turnaround times for test results are on the rise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, which has coincided with the worst phase of the pandemic to date.

The U.S. reported 142,732 new coronavirus cases on Sunday. Case surges also typically lead to more testing demand as people learn that they have been exposed to an infected person or start developing symptoms after becoming infected.

Doctors and public-health officials encourage those with symptoms or known contact with an infected individual to get tested. They warn that people interested in getting tested before seeing family should continue to take other measures like wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands.

Here’s some advice from public-health officials and doctors on where to get tested before Thanksgiving and what to expect.

Where can I get a test before Thanksgiving?

Many urgent- and primary-care facilities offer testing appointments in addition to the mobile and other clinics run by state and county health departments across the country. Some doctors also offer testing in their offices. Many states publish maps and testing site information on their public-health department websites.

The federal government has also set up surge testing sites in states including Pennsylvania, Utah, New Mexico and Kentucky. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a website that lists no-cost testing centers by state and health benefits company Castlight Health Inc. offers a test site finding website.

Finding an available appointment given the recent increase in demand may be challenging, and some clinics offer walk-in appointments only—and some test sites have age limits and won’t test children. Lines for testing stretched around city blocks in New York the weekend before Thanksgiving. Some facilities across the country are now giving priority for those with symptoms or known contact with someone who is infected, so be sure to check test sites’ eligibility criteria before waiting in line.

Finding an available appointment may require a mix of online research and phone calls to facilities to learn about testing availability.

What’s the turnaround time going to be?

If you receive a PCR test that is processed in a lab, you should expect to wait two to four days or more. Turnaround times for results from PCR tests—those sent to labs for processing—have crept up in recent days amid a surge in demand. Laboratory Corp. of America said on Friday that the time to get a result once they receive the sample “remains strong," at about one to two days, up slightly from earlier in the fall. Rival Quest Diagnostics Inc. said last week that its Covid-19 test-turnaround time was more than two days, after hovering at two days since late August.

If you receive a rapid antigen test, which trades some accuracy for speed, you will receive results in minutes or later the same day, depending on how the testing facility operates.

How much will it cost?

Covid-19 testing is often free, especially when tests are administered at a publicly run site. Many insurers cover the costs of testing, particularly if the person has symptoms or a known exposure to an infected person. The advertised price of lab-based PCR tests ranges from about $60 to $200 or more depending on the facility. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or Cares Act, requires testing providers to publish the cash price of Covid-19 tests on their public website.

Rapid tests can cost $100 to $200 or more depending on the facility.

How accurate will the test be?

PCR tests are considered the gold standard for accuracy, though at times they can detect the virus’s genetic material when a person is no longer infectious. Rapid antigen tests are most effective on those showing symptoms early on in their illness or when a person has a high viral load.

Some doctors and public-health experts say rapid tests shouldn’t be used as one-time screeners, though others say they are better than no test at all. They can be useful in catching an infection when they are given to someone multiple times over a period of days or weeks, and public-health experts say that they are good at catching the most infectious cases. But they shouldn’t be used to make a definitive determination about whether someone is virus-free, some say.

The effectiveness of a test depends on the quality of the sample collected and when a person seeks one. The median incubation period for Covid-19 is four to five days, according to the CDC.

If I can’t get a test, what should I do?

Public-health experts and doctors say families should avoid gathering with other households this year and outdoor gatherings are safer than those indoors—even though that is a challenge in parts of the country with cold weather. They advise mask wearing around people who aren’t in your household, social distancing as much as possible and regular hand washing.

“Getting tested gives you that added safety. It makes you feel better but you should still social distance, wear a mask when you’re with them and don’t share a meal with them if you’ve had high risk behavior," such as attending a large gathering, Dr. Bernard Camins, medical director for infection prevention at the Mount Sinai Health System, said last week.

Self-quarantining for two weeks or so before gathering can also help reduce the risk of getting together, public-health experts say.

How much safer does getting tested make my family gathering?

Testing only offers a snapshot of whether a person has a high enough viral load for a test to detect an infection the day he or she was swabbed. Doctors warn that tests alone aren’t an all-clear to attend large gatherings.

If a person is tested too early in their infection, they could go on to spread the virus to others after they are tested. Doctors typically say people should wait at least four or five days after being exposed to an infected person before seeking a test. And even if a person is virus-free the day he or she is tested, they could still get exposed to the virus in the time between the test and the actual gathering.

“Ultimately it’s safer to celebrate virtually," said Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, primary-care chain One Medical’s regional medical director for the West.

I am flying internationally during the holiday season. Should I get tested?

Getting tested before and after travel can reduce the risk of spreading the virus, according to the CDC. The agency advises getting tested one to three days before flying and three to five days after in addition to staying home for a week after. Those who test negative should stay home for seven days after flying and people who don’t get tested should do so for 14 days.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk, but when paired with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations," according to the agency’s website.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.

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