COVID-19: Get Tested

Do you have COVID-19 symptoms? Have you been in close contact with someone with COVID-19? If your answer is “yes” to either of these questions, it’s time to get tested, even if you are fully vaccinated. There are many ways to get tested for COVID-19 in Wisconsin. First contact your doctor to ask if your primary health care clinic provides testing. If testing is not available, you can find a free community testing site near you or you can also request a free at home collection kit.

Child getting a COVID-19 test while an adult watches

 

Getting tested for COVID-19

See the basic information about COVID-19 testing, including when to get tested, how to get a test, what happens during and after a test, and when to get tested after you’ve been fully vaccinated.

Who should test

No matter your vaccination status, you should get tested if you were in close contact with someone with COVID-19 or if you have any COVID-19 symptoms. It is important to know that you can still spread the virus to others even if you have mild or no symptoms.

How to get tested for COVID-19

There are many ways to get tested for COVID-19 in Wisconsin.

What to expect

Some types of tests for COVID-19 require inserting a long swab (like a long Q-tip) into the nose and gently rotating it several times. The swabbing is then repeated in the other nostril. The test can be a little uncomfortable but is usually painless. The swab is then sent to a lab for testing. Other types of tests use saliva or throat swabs.

While you wait for your COVID-19 test results, self-isolate and monitor your symptoms, to keep yourself and others safe.

If you used an at-home COVID-19 collection kit, you will receive your results by email. If you were tested for COVID-19 at a community testing site, you will be notified of your test results by phone or email. If you have been waiting for more than five days for your results from a community testing site, call your local or tribal health department.

If you have symptoms consistent with a respiratory illness but test negative for COVID-19, you may be sick with a different type of respiratory virus. Talk to your health care provider about additional testing and isolate until you are well for at least 24 hours. Follow your health care provider’s guidance before returning to work or school.

When to get tested after vaccination

If you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, meaning it’s been two weeks after you’ve received either a single-dose vaccine, like Johnson & Johnson, or the second dose of a two-dose vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna, you should get tested 3-5 days after close contact with someone with COVID-19, even if you don’t have symptoms. You should also wear a mask in public indoor spaces for 14 days after close contact, or until you receive a negative test result.  If, at any time, you develop symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested and isolate from others. 

You may need to be tested before or after you travel, even if you are fully vaccinated. Learn more on our travel page.


Testing Capacity in Wisconsin: Available Consistently and Reliably!

Illustration showing how COVID-19 testing capacity has increased over time

See how testing capacity has grown in Wisconsin over the course of the pandemic by expanding the tabs below.

When COVID-19 first arrived in Wisconsin

COVID-19 first arrived in Wisconsin in early spring of 2020, and there were very few tools to fight it. Testing was scarce and saved for people who were gravely ill or more likely to die from COVID-19. In the beginning, testing was first available in hospitals, clinics and other health care settings, as well as nursing homes. Most people were told to stay home and call their health care provider if their illness worsened. People who were close to someone with COVID-19 could not get tested. Testing supplies were so limited and demand was so high that it could take two weeks or longer to get your results.

As COVID-19 cases surged

Each week, our testing capacity grew. More laboratories joined the effort, building on the base established by the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene, who was there at the very start. This made it a little easier to get a COVID-19 test, but wait times for results were still long. In the summer of 2020, if you needed a test, you could go to a drive-through or community testing site without an appointment, but results often still took days.

By the fall of 2020, COVID-19 cases surged in Wisconsin and nationwide. We knew that testing was a key tool in stopping the spread of the virus. Wisconsin’s testing capacity continued to grow – and fast. We teamed up with partners to offer services like COVID Connect, the test registration website, and free at-home test collection. Our partners at the Wisconsin National Guard, the University of Wisconsin system, and more than 75 new testing sites with community partners. The Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene also started sequencing test specimens for emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 that are more contagious than earlier strains of the virus.

COVID-19 testing today

Now, tests are readily available. You may get tested by your doctor, at your workplace, at school, or at a community testing site. And you can even buy a COVID-19 test over the counter at your local pharmacy! Today, test results arrive faster than ever before—some as quickly as 7 minutes!  

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the need to get tested if you have symptoms - even if you’re fully vaccinated - or have been exposed. Testing is still one of the best ways to stop the spread and keep your family and community safe.


Antibody testing

If you had symptoms of COVID-19 and have since recovered, or if you think you may have had it but did not show symptoms, you may be able to get an antibody test. Antibody tests will not tell you if you currently have COVID-19 but can let you know if you had it at some time in the past. Certain antibody tests (anti-spike protein) will become positive after vaccination. These tests cannot currently be used to determine if someone is immune to infection. Community testing sites are not currently providing antibody testing. If you would like an antibody test, contact your health care provider to ask for one. Learn about different types of COVID-19 tests.

  • Antibody testing should not be used to inform workplace decisions, including return-to-work or personal protective equipment decisions. Antibody testing can only determine whether antibodies are present in your blood.
  • Antibody testing should not be used alone to determine if you currently have COVID-19.

COVID-19 testing at home

What is the difference between an at-home collection kit and an at-home test?

At-home collection kits

At-home collection kits are a type of COVID-19 test where you collect your own sample at home. Sample collection is sometimes supervised by a health care professional, depending on the type of collection kit you use. You then send your sample to a lab for processing and get your test results in 1-3 days.

  • Test results from an at-home collection kit can only be used to inform official public health decisions, such as clearance for travel; or exemption or release from quarantine, if the sample collection is supervised by a health care provider. (Note: Not all at-home collection kits require a health care provider to supervise the sample collection.)
  • The State of Wisconsin and Vault Medical Services have teamed up to provide at-home collection kits to everyone who lives in Wisconsin, at no cost. Sample collection is supervised over a video call by a health care professional, and therefore can be used to inform official public health decisions. Request a free, supervised at-home collection kit.

At-home tests

At-home tests are a type of COVID-19 test where you collect your own sample, process your sample at home and get results in less than an hour. At-home tests are not supervised by a health care professional and are not sent to a lab for processing. 

  • At-home tests cannot be used to inform official public health decisions, such as clearance for travel; or exemption or release from quarantine. You often need to get another test from a health care provider or at a community testing site to confirm your result. 
  • Learn more about at-home tests and what your test result means

Testing support programs for facilities

COVID-19 testing support programs are available in specific settings and facilities in Wisconsin. Testing is free, voluntary, and intended to complement COVID-19 prevention efforts. For more information on specific testing support programs, see the resources listed below:

Shelters with shared living environments

All shelters with shared living environments are eligible to receive COVID-19 testing support.

County jails

County jails are eligible for COVID-19 testing support based on the availability of testing supplies.

 

Resources on COVID-19 testing

Access a library of materials and resources that focus on how to get tested for COVID-19 and how to keep yourself and others safe.


Diagnosed with COVID-19?

If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, you should isolate to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 

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Last Revised: September 17, 2021

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