Testing for COVID-19: What You Need to Know

As cases of COVID-19 have rapidly spread across the United States, you have likely asked yourself at one point or another, “Should I get tested?” The uncertainty of not knowing can lead to anxiety and stress. To help provide peace of mind, Memorial Hermann has assembled a COVID-19 testing guide. The guide below outlines everything you need to know to help you make the right decisions and seek the appropriate medical care you may need.

What’s the criteria for testing?

At this time, it remains difficult to evaluate if a person is carrying the virus. Above all, the most important thing is not to ignore your symptoms. If you fit into the two priority categories below, you should consider visiting the nearest testing location.

  • Older Adults (Ages 60+) & Chronically Ill and Immunocompromised Individuals

These individuals who are at a higher risk due to chronic medical conditions and immunocompromised states should consider being tested. This includes, but is not limited to, those with diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease and receiving immunosuppressive medications.

  • People who have had, or are suspected of having, contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases

Any person who had close contact with a suspected or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient, within 14 days of symptom onset. This also includes those who have a history of travel from affected geographic areas within 14 days of their symptom onset.

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and are showing symptoms such as a fever, fatigue or a cough, we advise you to call your healthcare provider for medical advice as a first step.

I’m showing symptoms. What are my next steps?

  • Those with severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in chest, or bluish lips or face, should seek care immediately by going directly to an emergency room or calling 911.  If possible, call ahead to your emergency room to notify healthcare workers you are coming in with symptoms associated with COVID-19.
  • Those with moderate symptoms, such as fatigue, sore throats, wet coughs and fevers, should look into visiting testing locations nearest to them. Unless it’s an emergency, we advise you to steer clear of the emergency room in an effort to further protect yourself and others from spreading or contracting the virus.
  • Those with mild symptoms, such as fatigue or dry coughs, are encouraged to stay home and contact their healthcare provider by phone for guidance on medical needs and next steps.

Where exactly should I go to get testing in Greater Houston?

The Harris County Health Department and City of Houston Health Department are offering testing locations. Visit readyharris.org for more information. 

In addition, Fort Bend County Health Department is also offering testing. Visit https://www.fbchealth.org/ for more information.

Do I need a doctor’s order to receive a test?

If you think you need to be tested, or want to be tested for COVID-19, it is important that you see a provider first.  The provider will conduct an evaluation and when clinically appropriate can write the order for a COVID-19 test.

If I have mild symptoms and asked to stay at home, what kind of medicine would be helpful?

Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.  Tylenol is best for reducing fever and helping with body aches.  Over the counter medications like Allegra or Flonase can help with nasal symptoms. 

If you normally take prescriptions, it is important to continue those, or consult with your healthcare provider if you have questions.  Many providers are offering virtual visits, so you can consult with them and receive additional prescription medications if needed.  

What does the future of testing look like? Will there be enough tests?

Across the country we are seeing an expansion of testing options, as diagnostic testing is becoming increasingly available in clinical laboratories. There is great innovation and agility in this space. We will continue to see additional offerings and improved turnaround times for testing as we move forward due to innovation, agility, and collaboration between the government and the private sector.  Greater Houston is also actively working with state and federal authorities on the development of new testing locations, which will be available to patients on their healthcare provider’s order.

What should I do if I have COVID-19 symptoms, but may not meet all of the testing criteria?

We understand it’s frustrating to not be able to instantly test for COVID-19 the same way we do for other viruses such as Flu and Strep. We expect to see progress in this space over the coming weeks and months.  While it can be best to have the test, the most important thing you can do is to stay home, rest, and self-quarantine.  Treat your symptoms and consult your provider via virtual health options.

What are good prevention measures I can follow during this time?

The most important and immediate thing we can practice right now is self-quarantine and social distancing. We encourage you to do your part to help #slowthespread.  While this current situation is different and we are being asked to change our behavior and lifestyle, it is important to combat the virus and improve our collective community health.  When you feel sick, assume you have the virus and change your behavior or lifestyle to avoid transmitting infection.

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Ali Vise