Many labs are experiencing long delays –5 days or more– in processing COVID-19 PCR tests.
If this is the case for you, and you are wondering what to do while awaiting your test, you can utilize serial at-home tests (typically rapid antigen tests), if you have access to them. These tests come back in ~ 15 minutes, but they are less sensitive for testing small amounts of the virus and will be negative very early on in the infection. One approach might be to begin testing with antigen tests on day 3 (day 0 is your exposure), then test daily while awaiting the PCR result.
If you are asymptomatic, never develop symptoms, and antigen tests remain negative 5 days apart (eg day 3 and day 8), it is unlikely you have COVID-19.
If you have or develop symptoms of COVID-19, and you are not able to obtain antigen tests OR even if the initial antigen test was negative, assume you likely have COVID-19 and isolate accordingly.
The table below is a basic outline of recommendations regarding what to do while awaiting your PCR test (for a more detailed explanation, including definitions of quarantine vs isolation: https://myvirtualphysician.com/2022/01/22/ive-been-exposed-to-covid-19-what-now/)
*Continue isolating as long as you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and while awaiting test results. You can end isolation after 5 full days if your symptoms are improving AND you are fever-free for 24 hours (without taking any fever-reducing medications), provided your other symptoms have improved.
* Please contact your medical provider if you test positive for COVID-19 and/or if you are experiencing any severe symptoms of COVID-19.