About COVID-19 Testing

What you need to know about testing for COVID-19 in Massachusetts.

Table of Contents

Should I be tested?

You should get a test for COVID-19 if:

  • You develop any symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are mild, or
  • On day 6 following an exposure to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19

You can consider testing before spending time with someone who is at high risk for severe COVID-19 (due to older age or medical conditions) especially if you are in an area with medium or high COVID-19 Community Level. 

For detailed information, visit the CDC’s webpage: Testing for COVID-19

You can also call 2-1-1, a 24-hour state-supported telephone hotline.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

If you develop symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are mild, please contact your healthcare provider and a test site near you to schedule a test.

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • In elderly, chronically ill, or debilitated individuals such as residents of a long-term care facility, symptoms of COVID-19 may be subtle such as alterations in mental status or in blood glucose control

How do I know if I have been exposed to COVID-19?

People with COVID-19 are most able to spread it to others during the first 5 days of their infection but can also spread it up to 2 days before symptom onset or their positive test and for about 10 days after their positive test. If you were around someone during this time frame, especially if you spent over 15 minutes in close proximity to them, or doing activities that involved singing or shouting, you may have been exposed to COVID-19.  Even if you were around that person for a shorter time frame, you should consider yourself an exposure, especially if you had direct contact with the respiratory droplets of that person (e.g., being coughed or sneezed on) while not wearing a mask or face covering. For more about understanding your risk of exposure, visit this CDC page.

What are the different types of COVID-19 testing?

  • Rapid antigen test (At-home test): A Rapid Antigen Test is a COVID-19 test that can be bought at a pharmacy, retail store or online. It is usually taken at home and you can get results in as little as 15 minutes.
  • PCR: A PCR test is a clinically administered test, where a swab of your nose, throat, or a saliva sample is taken and then sent to a lab. Results for a PCR test can take several days to come back.
  • Antibody testing: An antibody test detects the presence of antibodies to COVID-19 in your blood. Antibodies are produced during an infection with COVID-19 or by vaccination.
    • Important to know: At this time, most people don’t need antibody tests and they should not be used to guide decisions on whether to stop isolation or return to work.

What kind of test should I get?

In most situations, either a rapid antigen test or a PCR can be used to tell you if you currently have COVID-19, including the following:

  What kind of test can I use?
If I have symptoms of COVID-19

Rapid antigen or PCR

(If you had COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you should use a rapid antigen test)

If I was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 Rapid antigen or PCR*
To test in order to stop masking following isolation ** Rapid antigen
To travel internationally Some countries require a negative PCR test for entry, but many now allow for Rapid antigen tests. Travelers should check requirements prior to travel.


* People who had COVID-19 in the last 90 days should test with a rapid antigen test, not a PCR test. People who were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the last 30 days ago are not recommended to test on day 6 but should use a rapid antigen test if they develop any symptoms. If you have not had COVID-19 in the last 90 days, you can use either a rapid antigen or a PCR test to test on Day 6 following an exposure to COVID-19.

**Note: For some workers at nursing homes or other long term care facilities, a PCR test is required to return to work. Workers should check with their employer.

Where can I get a test?

Rapid antigen (at-home) tests may be found at a pharmacy, retail store or online and are an acceptable alternative to PCR tests in most situations. They may also be distributed through employers, municipal programs, school districts and other community partners.

PCR tests are widely available in retail pharmacies, urgent care centers, community health centers, and other health care locations, like a primary care office.

Many sites may require pre-screening, a referral and/or an appointment. If you are unsure of the requirements, please contact the site prior to arrival.

Please do not go to the emergency department for COVID-19 testing. Only access hospitals that have designated vaccination clinics and ensure you have an appointment, if one is required.

Is there a cost?

Rapid antigen (at-home) tests are now covered by insurance, as required by the federal government. For more information on that coverage, please visit How to get your At-Home Over-The-Counter COVID-19 Test for Free | CMS.gov.

PCR testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts is usually available at no cost to you. If you are insured, generally your insurance will cover the cost. If you are uninsured, many test sites in the Commonwealth test uninsured individuals for free. If you are uninsured and do not know whether the site offers free testing, please call the site to confirm before making an appointment.

What do I do if my test is positive?

While you are waiting for your results, you should stay home and limit your contact with anyone else. If you test positive for COVID-19 on either a rapid antigen (at-home) or PCR test, you should self-isolate in accordance with Massachusetts Isolation Guidance, and notify anyone you spent time with that they may have been exposed to COVID-19. 

If you have any symptoms, and any of these conditions that put you at higher risk, contact your health care provider right away to determine if COVID-19 treatments, such as the Paxlovid pill, are right for you.

Stay home except to get medical care

  • Stay home. Most people with COVID-19 have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care. Do not leave your home, except to get medical care. Do not visit public areas.
  • Self-isolation means separating yourself from others to keep your germs from spreading.
    • How to Self-isolate 
    • If you have questions about isolation or quarantine, you can call your Local Board of Health or the Department of Public Health’s On-call Epidemiologists at 617-983-6800.

Monitor your symptoms

  • If you feel like you need medical care, call ahead before visiting your doctor or urgent care center.
  • You should only go to the hospital emergency department for emergency care. Seeking care at the emergency department for non-emergent or routine healthcare needs, including mild COVID-19 symptoms or COVID-19 testing, diverts critical resources away from other patients who have serious emergencies.
  • Look for emergency warning signs* for COVID-19. If someone is showing any of these signs, call 9-1-1 to seek emergency medical care immediately:
    • Trouble breathing
    • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
    • New confusion
    • Inability to wake or stay awake
    • Bluish lips or face

*This list is not all possible symptoms. Please call your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you.

If you need help getting resources to self-isolate or self-quarantine

  • Call your local board of health. They can link you to resources to help you be able to stay home. 

Is testing available in nursing homes?

Additional resources

Contact for About COVID-19 Testing


24 hours a day, 7 days a week. All calls are free and confidential. Interpreter services are available in multiple languages.

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