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Coronavirus test: How long will it take to get my COVID-19 results?

It depends on your location, so the answer is complicated. But here's what we know about COVID-19 testing right now.

It may take more than a week to get your coronavirus test results back.

James Martin/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

As testing production continues to ramp up, coronavirus test kits are still limited in many states throughout the country. However, home test kits and other types of testing are slowly becoming available. The challenge is that testing is uneven. From who can get a COVID-19 test to the difficulty of finding a testing site in your area and even how long the test results take to come in, many of us still have plenty of questions.

The shortage of COVID-19 test kits and personal protective equipment in areas where there's a surge in demand for testing presents one problem. Another wrinkle discovered last month was coronavirus contamination found in the labs of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The New York Times reported, which delayed distribution of test kits. 

In most cases, your doctor should let you know a time frame for getting your coronavirus results back, but that can vary from hours to even a week. Here's what we know about how long it takes to get tested and how to find out your results.

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There are drive-through locations for coronavirus testing.

James Martin/CNET

When can I get a COVID-19 test?

To be tested for coronavirus, you may need to have a doctor's order and make an appointment with a testing facility. As testing becomes more available, there may be options to make an online appointment and show up at a testing site, like a makeshift facility or a location earmarked by your doctor's office. 

In Santa Clara County, Calif., a local stadium and a fairgrounds converted into testing sites serve as locations for self-administered nasal swab tests, ones that no longer extend to the back of the throat, NBC reported. Testing is available to all residents over 18, regardless of whether they have symptoms.

However, if you're a high-risk patient or experiencing severe symptoms, like trouble breathing, you should seek medical attention immediately. Call your doctor for a referral to a testing clinic in your area. 

What is the coronavirus test like?

If you're not taking an at-home test, when you go to get screened for the coronavirus you'll either be directed to a clinic or to a drive-through testing site. If you're waiting in a medical facility, it's recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that you wear a face covering to prevent spreading the virus to others. Note that many facilities may require you to wear a face mask.

The most common type of testing for COVID-19 today is a nose swab test that's similar to screening for other flu viruses (though antibody blood tests are on the horizon). The doctor will swab the inside of your nose for several seconds with a long, single-use tool that looks like a giant Q-Tip and reaches the upper part of the throat. Some more-recent tests seem to gravitate toward a self-administered nasal swab with a shorter range. 

Antibody testing, which requires a blood sample, is also becoming increasingly available. Regardless of how you're tested, the sample is sealed and sent to a laboratory to determine if you have COVID-19.

Read more: Need a pulse oximeter? These models are in stock starting at $24  

When will I get my COVID-19 test results?

In theory, it takes only a few hours for the lab to determine if you've acquired the coronavirus. But depending on where you live, it can take up to a week or more to get your results back. It also depends on how many tests have been administered in your location. For example, some facilities, like those in New York, are overwhelmed by the number of people getting tested. Therefore, the waiting period may be longer.

Other states, like California, are experiencing a backlog of test results. That may soon change in pockets across the state. Norton Healthcare originally said test results would take longer than anticipated because of increased testing nationwide but now says the results will be delivered within three to five days.

The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio said patients in the hospital who are very ill or high risk typically receive their results within 24 hours. However, patients who are tested at a drive-through facility get their results back within a few days.

Once your results are available, your doctor will contact you to let you know if you've tested positive or negative for the coronavirus. 

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What if I test positive for the coronavirus?

If results show that you've been infected with COVID-19, make sure to let everyone you've come in close contact with in the last two weeks know. Ask your doctor for the next steps and continue to isolate yourself at home. 

Contact tracing, which is a system that helps identify people you've come into close contact with, can help stem the spread to others. We also have some guidelines for taking care of yourself if you're infected with the virus.

The CDC says you can leave the house again once you've had no fever for at least 72 hours (without medicine), symptoms like coughing have improved and at least seven days have passed since your symptoms first appeared.

For more information on coronavirus testing, here's how to find a coronavirus testing site near you and check wait times, who qualifies for COVID-19 testing and what you need to know about a coronavirus home testing kit.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.