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Here’s what experts say people should know about virus testing

A testing site in Boston's Grove Hall neighborhood last week.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Understanding the importance of widespread testing is one thing, and knowing when an individual should seek it is another.

Here’s what experts and officials said people should know:

You should get tested immediately if you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or have any symptoms — even mild ones that could be cold or flu. Even if it seems more likely that your sore throat is only due to a cold, experts said you should get tested — or quarantine immediately and completely for 14 days. This is also one reason it’s important to get a flu shot, to help narrow down what could be making you sick.


You should get tested routinely if you leave your house regularly for work or leisure, especially if you’re in higher-risk settings. Those include indoor dining and gatherings of any size where people take their masks off — even if you know everyone there. While some experts are more conservative in their definition of “routine,” Scarpino advised restaurant workers and others in frontline jobs to get tested multiple times a week if they are able.

You should plan ahead to get tested if you are traveling, hosting guests, or attending a gathering with people outside of your household or quarantine bubble. This will be especially important if you will be indoors with someone, or taking your mask down for more than a few minutes.

You should self-isolate before testing and while you wait for results. Remember that you will not test positive immediately after exposure. If you are planning to get a test, stay at home for a few days beforehand, and self-isolate again while you wait for your results to avoid infecting others or picking up an infection yourself.

Testing has gotten easier. You might have heard horror stories from the spring and summer of long waits for results and painful, brain-poking swabs. Things have gotten better, experts said. Many sites have adopted shorter, softer nasal swabs that have been found to offer similar accuracy to the more invasive test. Turn-around times and waits have also gotten shorter. Check the state’s list of testing sites and your city website for the accommodations you need: no-cost tests, same-day appointments and walk-ins, drive-up testing, and testing for people who are not showing symptoms.


Dasia Moore is the Globe Magazine's staff writer. E-mail her at dasia.moore@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @daijmoore.