What To Expect From a COVID-19 Test

Find out about what to expect from COVID-19 testing with this handy guide. 

What is a COVID-19 test? 

A COVID-19 test is a quick test that you can do to tell if you have COVID-19. It is a nasal-pharyngeal swab and there are two parts to it. First is the ‘pharyngeal’ part, which means using a long cotton bud to stroke your tonsils for a few moments. The ‘nasal’ part is next, which means inserting another long cotton bud about 2.5cm into your nose for another swab – move it around a bit to swab properly. 

Swabbing is a bit invasive and not particularly fun, but not awful either. The best advice is to just stay calm while you do it, and it should be over quickly.

The process for testing is the same for everyone at the moment, even for small children or people with additional support needs. There are staff to support you at testing sites. 

The COVID-19 test is a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test which meets a international gold standard for testing due to being extremely accurate. No test is 100% but there is a very low margin of error with these tests. 

Another type of test is the the lateral flow test (LFT). This involves a handheld kit that gives a result in about 30 minutes, it differs from a PCR test in that it doesn't need to be sent to a lab for analysis. Fluid from a nasal swab or saliva goes on one end, then a marking appears if you are positive.

LFTs are the tests being offered to students across Scotland who are returning home for the winter break. You can read more about what this process will involve at scot.gov.

Who can get a COVID-19 test? 

Testing is only available for specific groups to protect high risk settings, support clinical care and for surveillance.

You can order tests if you are:

If you're eligible for free NHS tests, you can place an order online.

Or, you can phone 119. The helpline is free from mobiles and landlines. It's open every day from 7am to 11pm and they have a translation service. SignVideo (a free online British Sign Language interpreter service) is also available.

If you test positive for COVID-19

If your test comes back positive you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after the day you took your test, or from the day your symptoms started (whichever was earlier).

You should should follow this advice until you feel well enough to resume normal activities and you no longer have a high temperature (if you had one).

You can be infectious to other people for up to 10 days from the start of your infection, so avoid meeting with anyone who's at higher risk, especially individuals with a weakened immune system, for 10 days after the day you took your test.

Find more information on the NHS Inform site.

When to get medical help

Call 111 for medical help if:

 If you have a medical emergency, phone 999 and tell them you have coronavirus symptoms.

More information from Young Scot on Coronavirus (COVID-19)