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Your Guide to Covid-19 Testing in Houston

Pooja Salhotra
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Covid-19 Testing

Covid-19 testing is available at both drive-through and walk-in locations across Houston. 

With the surge in coronavirus cases in Houston, testing is becoming even more important. Here, we’ve provided the answers to some of the most common questions about coronavirus testing. 

What types of testing are available? 
There are three types of tests available for Covid-19 that have been approved by the FDA: polymerase chain reaction (PCR – also called the Molecular tests), antigen tests, and antibody (serology) tests. The first two, PCR and antigen tests, detect whether a person is currently infected with the virus, while the serology test detects whether a person had an infection in the past by looking at whether they have antibodies for the virus. Having antibodies might provide protection from getting infected with the virus again. But scientists don’t yet know if that’s the case. It’s also unclear how long protection will last.

PCR tests are the most common type of testing available at the Harris County testing locations, and they can be taken via a nasal swab or saliva test – the saliva test was more recently approved by the FDA. Those test results take anywhere from 24 hours to several days to return. Antigen tests are taken via a nasal or throat swab and results can come back in minutes. Though these tests are more efficient, they have a higher rate of false negative results. 

Who is eligible to get tested?
Different testing sites have different eligibility requirements. Harris County Public Health encourages residents to get tested if they feel they have the virus OR if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. HCPH is prioritizing first responders and healthcare professionals. Some testing sites do not have any pre-screening or eligibility requirements. It’s recommended to check with your primary healthcare provider to determine if/where to get tested. 

How much does testing cost? 
Free testing is available regardless of citizenship status and for those who are uninsured. Public testing administered through Harris County Public Health, Texas Department of Emergency Management and the City of Houston are free. Private testing sites vary in pricing. Some are free, others are free with insurance, and others have a fixed cost that ranges from $80 to $150.  

What does a positive test result mean?
A positive PCR or antigen test means the person has an active infection. The CDC says that a positive test result means you should isolate at home for at least 10 days. It’s important to monitor your health conditions and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen.  

What does a negative test result mean?
Different tests have different rates of accuracy. If you get a negative antigen test result, know that you could still have the virus. If a healthcare provider is concerned that you have Covid-19, even after a negative test result, the result can be confirmed with PCR testing.   

If I have symptoms but am self-isolating, should I still get tested?
Yes! Even if you are self-isolating, it is helpful for public health officials to obtain data on the spread of the virus. Getting tested early also helps identify anyone else who might have come into contact with you, so you can inform those individuals to seek out testing and to self-isolate.   

Where can I get tested in Houston?
A number of public and private testing sites are available across Harris County. Public sites include six testing sites operated by the Texas Department of Emergency Management along with several testing locations run by Harris County Public Health and Houston’s Health Department

Walgreens, CVS and Walmart are offering free testing at many of their locations.  

Here are some additional resources to find answers to your questions on Covid-19 testing.

Editor’s note: Find a list of organizations and individuals providing Covid-19 related relief in Houston, plus ways to help.

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