When should I be testing for Covid-19 with so many other respiratory viruses going around?

Testing and Contact Tracing

A: It’s still a good idea to test if you have cold symptoms, know you were exposed, or are visiting anyone vulnerable to severe COVID disease.

If it feels like everyone you know has had a cold or upper respiratory illness in the last 3 months, Those Nerdy Girls are right there with you. The catchy nickname “Tripledemic” is a cheeky way to describe the massive number of cases of flu, COVID-19 and RSV which are circulating, and this doesn’t even include all the other viruses causing illness right now. In this Nerdy Girl’s house, with a 2 and 6 year old, it seems someone’s nose has been running continuously since early October. So how do you decide when to test for COVID-19 and when to assume it’s just a cold?

Testing fatigue can reduce our desire to test ourselves and family members. Many feel weary of the seemingly endless cycle of illness, worry of “could this be COVID??” and the implications a positive test might have on our health, family members, and employment. In a perfect world, we’d all stay home if we are sick, until we are completely healthy. However, it’s not realistic to miss work and school with every runny nose or scratchy throat. Having a good plan in place for when and how to test can be helpful.

“Test early and test often” has been the general recommendation and is still a good guide. That said, we recognize that it can be hard to pointpoint when one runny nose stops and another begins.

So, when to test? A few suggestions:

-If you develop new symptoms that could be COVID-19. Symptoms could include fever, runny nose, scratchy or sore throat, cough, headache, unusual fatigue, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Loss of taste and smell are still possible, but don’t be fooled if you aren’t experiencing this – these symptoms seem to be less common with newer variants. Test immediately, and plan to test again over the coming days if the results are negative (see repeat testing advice below).

-If you’ve been sick and then develop a new fever >100 degrees OR if you’ve been sick and your other symptoms worsen, consider repeating a COVID-19 test. This could be due to COVID, or it could be a sign of a bacterial infection such as an ear infection, pneumonia or sinus infection. It’s worth testing for COVID-19 and consulting with your healthcare provider.

-If you’ve been exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19. If potential COVID-19 symptoms develop, which usually takes 2-4 days after exposure, test yourself right away. If that test is negative and you still have symptoms, repeat it 48 hours later. If no symptoms develop, test yourself on day 5 after your exposure.

-If you are going to spend time with someone who could be at high risk for severe COVID-19 such as a new baby, a pregnant woman or an elderly or immunocompromised relative, test the day you are visiting. Testing as close to the visit as possible gives you the best chances of detecting COVID-19.

Home rapid antigen tests are accessible and accurate if you use them with a few tips in mind:

-COVID-19 antigen tests often miss cases (false negatives) in the first few days of illness. If you have a negative rapid antigen test early on in your illness, test again in 48 hours, then re-test again 48 hours after the second test, if still negative (up to 3 tests).

-If your home COVID test is positive there is no need to seek a PCR test or retest at home. COVID-19 antigen tests rarely give “false positives”.

-Consider testing with the throat + nose technique! Although not an FDA-approved approach, several studies suggest that it’s more likely to show a positive result if you have COVID-19. Several of Those Nerdy Girls have used it with success.

Along with getting vaccinated + boosted and masking, testing when appropriate is one of our most important tools to fight against the spread of COVID-19. It’s ok to feel worn out and “over it”- we all do at times, it’s been a long three years with no real end in sight. BUT there is such power in having these tools available to use. Unlike much of 2020, we CAN safely attend school, work and gather with our friends and families as long as we use the science that’s available to us and our common sense. Testing when you are sick is one simple way we can care for each other and keep each other safe.

If you haven’t yet, order your free COVID tests!

Stay safe. Stay well.

Love, Those Nerdy Girls

Related posts from Those Nerdy Girls:

How well do COVID-19 rapid antigen tests work? Is a single antigen test enough?

How do I know if we have RSV, the flu, or COVID-19?

Do throat swabs help detect the Omicron variant?


CDC: COVID-19 Testing: What You Need to Know

FDA: Understanding At-Home Covid Tests

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