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
  • 5 days following a known a close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19

Testing may also be advised if you are unvaccinated and have recently traveled out of Massachusetts, and you may consider using a self-test before joining indoor gatherings with others who are not in your household.

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 am a close contact of someone with COVID-19?

  • You are a close contact of a COVID-19 positive person if you were within 6 feet of them while indoors, for at least 15 minutes, while they were symptomatic or within 2 days before symptom onset.
  • You are also a close contact if you were indoors and within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 (but did not have symptoms) and your exposure happened in the 2 days before their test was taken to anytime in the 10 days after the test.
  • A close contact can also be someone who had direct contact with respiratory droplets of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed or sneezed on) while not wearing a mask or face covering.

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 I am a close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 Rapid antigen or PCR
To exit isolation or quarantine* Rapid antigen or PCR
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.

 

*Testing to exit isolation or quarantine is recommended but not required. 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.

You can also visit Find a COVID-19 Test to find a testing site near you.

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 your close contacts 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 
    • CDC Isolation Guidance
    • 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.

Notify your close contacts

close contact is someone you have been inside with and were within 6 feet of for at least 10-15 minutes while symptomatic or in the 2 days before symptom onset. You can be a close contact of someone who didn’t have symptoms if you were inside with them or and were within 6 feet of for at least 10-15 minutes in the 10 days after they tested positive or in the 2 days before their positive test was taken. A close contact can also be someone who had direct contact with the respiratory droplets of a COVID-19 case (e.g., being coughed or sneezed on) while not wearing a mask or face covering.

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

Phone

Informational and referral hotline 211

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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