COVID-19 testing information

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 events or spending time with someone who is at high risk for severe COVID-19 (due to older age or medical conditions).

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?

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. You may have been exposed to COVID-19 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 were around that person for a shorter time frame and may have 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

To learn more about COVID-19 transmission and exposure risks, visit Understanding Exposure Risks | CDC.

What are the different types of COVID-19 viral testing?

    • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test: 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.
    • Rapid antigen test (self-test or at-home test): A Rapid Antigen Test is a COVID-19 test that can be bought at a pharmacy, retail store or online. It can be taken without having to go to a specific testing site and is usually taken at home. You can get results in as little as 15 minutes. 

    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* on Day 6 after exposure
    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 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.

    Where can I get a test?

    • Rapid antigen (self-tests or 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 generally administered by a medical provider and are typically available in retail pharmacies, urgent care centers, community health centers, and other health care locations, like a primary care office. You can find information about free and low-cost testing on HHS.gov.

    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.

    Is there a cost?

    Rapid antigen (self-test or 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, your insurance will likely cover the cost
    • If you are uninsured, many test sites in the Commonwealth test uninsured individuals for free. Visit TestingLocator.cdc.gov to find a no-cost COVID-19 testing location near you.
      • 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. A positive self-test result on either a rapid antigen (self-test or at-home) or PCR test means that the test detected the virus and you have a COVID-19 infection. 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.

    Consider treatment

    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-isolate. Separate yourself from others to keep your germs from spreading. Follow isolation guidelines.
      • If you have questions about isolation or exposure to COVID-19, 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 is not a list of 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

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

    My self-test was negative, what does that mean?

    A negative test result means the virus that causes COVID-19 was not found, and you may not have a COVID-19 infection. If you took the test while you had symptoms, a negative result does not guarantee you do not have a COVID-19 infection. You should repeat the rapid antigen self-test again 48 hours after the first test.  

    It is possible for a test to give a negative result in some people who have COVID-19. You could test negative if you test too early in your infection.  

    If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and test negative on a self-test, you should take everyday preventative actions to prevent spreading an illness to others. You may have another viral infection or illness or it may be too early in your infection to detect COVID-19. Consider repeat testing for COVID-19 with a self-test in a day or two, especially if you know you were exposed to someone else with COVID-19, or talk to your healthcare provider. 

    How often should I repeat my self-test? 

    Some self-tests are designed to be repeated. Repeated (sometimes called serial) self-testing is when a person tests themselves multiple times for COVID-19, or on a routine basis, such as every few days. By testing more frequently, you might detect the virus that causes COVID-19 more quickly and could reduce the spread of infection. Some self-tests include instructions for performing repeat testing, including the number of days between tests. No matter which test you are taking, please read and follow the instructions carefully. 

    Is testing available in nursing homes?

    Additional resources

    Contact for COVID-19 testing information

    Phone

    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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