What to know if you’re trying to get a COVID test before the holidays

Coronavirus

Health officials say if you aren't symptomatic and haven't been exposed, save tests for people who need them

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — With COVID-19 cases spiking across Oregon and the holidays rapidly approaching, many people are trying to get tested for the virus.

Even if you do get a test, health authorities say it’s no guarantee you won’t be exposing relatives.

“The tests are not anywhere near perfect,” said Dr. Tom Jeanne, deputy state health officer and epidemiologist for the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). “So a negative result in somebody who doesn’t have symptoms, who doesn’t have a known exposure, doesn’t really add very much information and you can’t really count on that negative to mean that it’s safe to then go and visit family or in other household.”

Even if a patient truly is negative for the virus, Jeanne said they could still get exposed at the testing site or on the way home.

Overall, test results are coming back within three to five days, which is standard, according to Multnomah County health officials. If you go through your own healthcare provider and they have an in-house lab, results could come back much faster, Jeanne said.

But wait times to even get a test appear to be increasing.

“I think with the big surge nationwide and in Oregon and also people who are trying to get tested, you know, before they travel, we’re seeing a really big strain on the system right now unfortunately,” Jeanne said.

Multnomah County Public Health said coronavirus testing is up 20% over last week. One woman who spoke with KOIN 6 News said the wait time for a test at the Convention Center last week was about four hours.

The state still has limited testing capacity, Jeanne said, so while the desire to get tested is understandable, the OHA is not recommending testing people without symptoms or any exposure to a known cases.

“We really want to focus on the people who do have symptoms of COVID-19,” he said.

The OHA has a tool on its website to find a testing facility near you. Many doctor’s offices only take existing patients, but urgent care facilities, emergency rooms, and pharmacies like Rite Aid and Walgreens are also administering tests.

Dr. Tom Jeanne of the Oregon Health Authority speaks to KOIN 6 News on Nov. 11, 2020.

If you’re hoping to get a test before traveling for Thanksgiving, reconsider, Jeanne said.

“The most safe thing to do would be to have a virtual holiday gathering,” he said. “Even though we’re all tired of doing that, that is the safest thing.”

If you’re set on traveling to see friends or family, the lowest-risk way is to self-quarantine beforehand, ideally for a full 14 days. Then, travel to the gathering by private vehicle instead of a plane or train or other mode of transportation where you would interact with other people.

Overall, health officials say the most important way to stop coronavirus transmission is maintaining 6 feet of physical distance, waring a face covering, washing your hands frequently, avoiding gatherings, and definitely staying home if you’re sick.

Continuing Coverage: Coronavirus

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