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Where’s your closest drive-thru COVID-19 test site? Can you avoid that deep nasal swab? Your top 10 questions about coronavirus testing, answered.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Nara Schoenberg

Want to get a COVID-19 test solely because you’re visiting your grandparents?

In Illinois, there’s nothing stopping you.

OVID-19 testing has come a long way since May. You don’t need symptoms — or a doctor’s OK — to find out if you’re infected with the highly contagious virus. Drive-thru testing is common, and the wait can be short or nonexistent.

Hospitals, individual doctors and the state of Illinois are offering multiple options — including, in some cases, a less invasive testing method, in which the swab doesn’t go far up your nose.

“For our patients, we’ve made it pretty convenient and easy to get tested,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kopin, chief medical officer at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital.

We asked Kopin, Illinois Department of Public Health spokesperson Melaney Arnold and the Cook County Department of Public Health what you need to know to navigate the new testing landscape. Here are their answers, supplemented by information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Do I need to make an appointment for COVID-19 testing in Illinois?

State-operated COVID-19 testing sites do not require appointments. You will need to make an appointment if you get tested at a doctor’s office or at a testing site run by a hospital or clinic.


Do I have to have COVID-19 symptoms?

No, state testing sites offer testing on demand — without symptoms or a doctor’s order. Other testing sites may have different requirements, such as symptoms, exposure to someone with COVID-19 or a referral from a doctor.


What should I bring?

Bring your ID and insurance information.


Do I have to do that test where they put the swab way up your nose?

No. The state testing sites actually use a technique in which the swab is not inserted deeply. Many doctor’s offices use shallow insertion as well, Kopin said. But some medical professionals prefer the deeper nasal test: “At Northwestern Medicine, that’s the one we have the most trust in currently,” Kopin said.


How is the sample taken in each case?

The deeper method, known as the nasopharyngeal swab, requires that a 6-inch swab be inserted up the nose to the back of the throat. For the shallower anterior nasal swab, the swab is inserted less than half an inch.


Is one more accurate?

A deep nasal swab is the gold standard of COVID testing, but the CDC accepts the shallow nasal swab.


How long will it take to get results?

Most testing locations get results back in 48 to 72 hours, Kopin said.


How do I find my closest testing site?

The Illinois Department of Public Health offers locations at its website; you can also contact your doctor or health clinic.


How do I find a site that offers drive-thru testing?

The state locations offer drive-thru testing.


What does testing cost with insurance? Without?

COVID-19 testing is free at the state locations. If you have insurance, your insurance company will be billed. At other sites, insurance has to cover the full cost of the test, but only if the test is deemed “medically appropriate.” Translation: Your insurance company may require that you have symptoms and a referral from a doctor.

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