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When should you get a COVID test? Mass. has issued new guidance

Rapid antigen test kits.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Massachusetts on Tuesday issued new guidance on when residents should seek COVID-19 testing, aligning the state with measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidance was updated as Governor Charlie Baker on Tuesday announced that the state has secured an order to get 26 million rapid antigen COVID-19 tests over the next three months.

Here’s a look at the Department of Public Health’s new guidance on COVID testing:

When should you get tested?

The state is recommending that residents get a COVID test when they’re experiencing symptoms of the virus or five days after a known close contact with someone who has tested positive.


The CDC’s measures do not recommend a negative COVID test to end the isolation period after having COVID, including in child-care and K-12 settings, the state noted.

People who have been exposed to the virus are recommended, but not required, to get tested for COVID-19 five days after they were exposed, DPH said. According to the CDC, the day you were exposed is considered “day zero” of your five-day quarantine, and “day 1″ is the first full day after you last had contact with someone infected with COVID. The same goes for those in isolation — “day 1″ is the first full day after symptoms have developed or your test specimen was collected, according to the CDC.

People who were exposed to the virus do not need to quarantine if are fully vaccinated and not yet eligible for a booster shot, if they are fully vaccinated and have received a booster dose, or if it has been fewer than 90 days since they tested positive for COVID.

What kind of test should you get?

The department said that rapid antigen tests, which are the self-administered tests that can be purchased at pharmacies, are in most cases an acceptable alternative to PCR tests, which are clinically administered at in-person sites.


People can take a rapid, at-home test instead of a PCR test in situations that include testing to exit isolation or quarantine or to receive treatments like monoclonal antibodies or antiviral medication if the infected person is at high risk for severe outcomes due to COVID.

Additionally, if a person tests positive with a rapid antigen test, they don’t need to confirm their diagnosis with a PCR test.

During an oversight hearing before the Legislature’s Committee on COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management, Baker said the rapid antigen tests were, in some ways, a more valuable tool than PCR tests.

“I do think some folks who are requiring PCR tests could get away from that,” Baker said. “I would actually argue that rapid tests are a better way of measuring when someone’s over COVID than a PCR test is.”

The department also said that those with COVID symptoms who test negative with a rapid antigen test should isolate and either test again with an at-home test or get a PCR test within one or two days if they still have symptoms.

Employers, schools, and child-care providers shouldn’t require a test as a condition of returning to work, school, or child care, the department said.

Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.