Chicago Coronavirus

What to Know About COVID Testing: How Long For Results, When to Get Tested

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With increased COVID-19 testing across Illinois, more residents have been searching for the latest information on coronavirus testing in the Chicago area.

From how long it takes to receive test results to when health officials recommend to be tested for COVID, here's what we know:

What are the types of COVID tests?

There are two types of COVID tests, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- diagnostic tests and antibody tests. Diagnostic tests are separated into molecular and antigen tests.

Here's more on each type:

Molecular Test
Also called: PCR/NAAT test
How the sample is taken: nasal swabs, saliva
What it shows: diagnosis of active COVID virus

Antigen Test
Also called: rapid test
How the sample is taken: nasal swabs
What it shows: diagnosis of active COVID virus

How long does it take to get results back?

Molecular tests can take less than an hour for at-home tests and at some health care locations, while some labs can take 1 to 3 days to process.

Antigen test results are typically returned rather quickly, sometimes within 15 to 30 minutes depending on the test.

When should I get tested?

Symptoms associated with coronavirus include fever, muscle and body aches, loss of taste or smell, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

Here's the full list of symptoms to watch for, according to the CDC:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The CDC notes this list does not include all symptoms, however.

"Anybody with symptoms, that's the most important group of people to test," Dr. Isaac Ghinai, an epidemic intelligence service officer with the Chicago Department of Public Health, said earlier in the summer. "If you have any symptoms of possible COVID, whether it's even just a mild cough, you know, any of those kinds of mild symptoms, we would still recommend COVID testing."

For some people, coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple weeks. For others, it may cause no symptoms at all. For some, the virus can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Even those who receive the coronavirus vaccine can also still contract the virus and may experience symptoms. Though rare, breakthrough cases have been reported in both Chicago and Illinois.

Most vaccinated people either have no symptoms or exhibit very mild symptoms, according to health officials, and the virus rarely results in hospitalization or death for those individuals.

Will the test tell me what variant I have?

The COVID tests currently only indicate whether or not you have a coronavirus infection.

"Those kinds of tests are not tests for variants. Those are tests for the virus and it will detect all known variants, and it won't tell you which one, it'll just say you have COVID or you have the virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID," Ghinai said. "So that's... all the diagnostic tests that are available right now just tell you, do you have the virus, or do you not have the virus."

Variants, however, can be detected from those tests, if they are sent to a specialized laboratory.

"It can only be done on a certain subset that meet specimen collection criteria," Ghinai said. "You need a certain volume, you need a certain amount of virus in there. These specialized laboratories then look and do a special kind of analysis called whole genome sequencing, the genetic fingerprint basically of the virus, and they'll look for those mutations, and then they can say, having looked at that genetic fingerprint, we know this is a delta, we know this."

Those sequences are then used to compare with findings from around the world, according to Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

"Every time this is sequenced, all over the world, the scientists are actually uploading those genetic fingerprints to be able to compare because the whole world needs to know what's happening with variants," she said.

Where can I get tested?

The Illinois Department of Public Health provides community-based testing sites, which are open to all residents regardless of symptoms and do not require appointments.

Here are the locations in the Chicago area:

2450 N. Farnsworth Ave.
Open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Harwood Heights
6959 W. Forest Preserve Rd.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Arlington Heights
Arlington Racetrack; 823 Wilke Rd.
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

102 W. Water Street
Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

University of Illinois shield saliva testing is also open through IDPH to all residents and do not require an appointment. Here's where to go:

Harper College; 1200 West Algonquin Rd.
Monday from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Thursday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

Joliet Junior College; 1215 Houbolt Rd.
Monday and Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon

Northeastern Illinois University; 3601 W Bryn Mawr Ave.
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.; Thursday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

College of Lake County; 19351 W. Washington St.
Monday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Oak Forest
South Suburban College; 16333 South Kilbourn Ave.
Monday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Blue Island
Affordable Recovery Home; 13811 Western
Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Though appointments are not required at the above locations, you can still sign up for a time by clicking here and using Agency Code: df5brbrj, according to IDPH.

Walgreens is also offering free, drive-thru COVID-19 testing at various locations across the Chicago area for people ages 3 and up.

Here's how the process works, according to the company's website:

  1. Complete a questionnaire
  2. Choose a location and time for the test
  3. Go to the location and stay in the vehicle with the window rolled up
  4. Show a confirmation email, valid ID and insurance card or voucher
  5. Perform a nasal swab yourself. Patients ages 3 to 18 will need a parent present while they self-administer the COVID test
  6. View test results on PWNHealth

To see a list of drive-thru locations nearby, click here and search your ZIP code.

CVS Pharmacy offers both PCR and rapid-result COVID testing free of cost at select locations through an appointment-only basis. Patients are required to fill out a questionnaire beforehand to ensure they are qualified, citing "limited supplies."

To see if you qualify for a COVID test nearby, click here.

Those living within city perimeters can use options from the Chicago Department of Public Health's website:

  • At-home: Some private companies will send tests directly to your home. The following tests have been authorized by the FDA. They include: a nose swab from Pixel by LabCorp , everywell or LetsGetChecked and saliva options like Vault or Vitagene. "This is not an exhaustive list and CDPH does not necessary recommend any specific private company," the department's website reads.
  • Your health care provider: According to CDPH, this is the best route for testing "because your health care provider is familiar with your medical history and can provide counselling that helps you understand exactly what your test result means."
  • Community health centers: According to CDPH, there are roughly 165 community health centers throughout Chicago. Find one near you at "No patient will be turned away because of inability to pay. Community health centers provide services regardless of patients’ immigration status and charge for services on a sliding fee scale," CDPH states.
  • Testing Map: Use the City of Chicago’s interactive testing map to find a testing site near you. According to CDPH, the map is updated frequently, but different testing sites might have different requirements. "We recommend calling in advance or checking online first," the department states.
  • City of Chicago testing sites: Chicago offers several community-based testing sites at no cost. To pre-register and schedule an appointment, click here
  • Traveler testing: PCR testing is available at O'Hare and Midway airports for travelers and airport/CDA employees, but it does cost money. The Rapid Antigen Test is $120, with patients receiving results in about 20 minutes. The PCR Test is $145, with results in about 24-72 hours. Anyone getting a test at the airport will need to show proof of flying (within 72 hours before their flight or five days after) or proof of airport employment.
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