Can I get tested for COVID-19? Everything you need to know about testing in California

ByAlix Martichoux KGO logo
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Coronavirus Testing: What is a COVID-19 genetic, antigen and antibody test?
There has been a lot of talk about testing for the coronavirus, but you may not entirely understand what the different tests are for.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- California is testing more people for the coronavirus than ever before. So why is it seemingly harder to get tested now than it was a month ago?

Here's what you need to know about COVID-19 testing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Can anyone get tested for COVID-19?

Technically speaking, yes. There are no state laws about who can or can't get tested. But this is more of a question about testing availability right now. As California continues to see COVID-19 infections soar, tests are being prioritized for people experiencing symptoms, high-risk populations and essential workers.

RELATED: Everything to know about California's confusing coronavirus reopening plan, summer shutdown and what comes next

Whether or not you can get access to a test may depend on how impacted your local testing sites are. If they're seeing high demand, it could take weeks to get an appointment.

Where can I get tested for COVID-19?

If you need a coronavirus test, you have several options:

  • Verily's Project Baseline: The Google subsidiary has pop-up testing sites around the state. More info here.
  • OptumServe sites: Another private-public partner with sites around the state. Make an appointment here.
  • Health care providers (contact your doctor's office for more information)
  • Community drive-through testing sites. List of locations here.

There are hundreds of sites in the Bay Area.

To find a testing location close to you, check out California's testing locator below. Type in your zip code or click "Map" to see all options. (You can also find a larger version of the map here.)

How long will it take to get results?

It could take anywhere from 24 hours to seven days to get your results. It depends on how backed up the lab processing your results is. For example, the average turnaround time in Santa Clara County is about two days.

WATCH LIST: Counties where COVID-19 is getting worse

Are COVID-19 tests free?

There should be no out-of-pocket cost for the test, which averages about $100. If you have health insurance, the company will be billed the cost. If not, the federal government will reimburse the testing provider.

Where can I get an antibody test?

A standard COVID-19 test, also called a PCR test, checks if you're currently infected with the coronavirus. Antibody tests, also called serology tests, check for past infections.

Locations offering antibody tests can also be found on the map embedded in the story above. If you donate blood to the Red Cross, OneBlood, Vitalant or others, they'll test your donation for coronavirus antibodies for free.

VIDEO: California officials explain how state is expanding COVID-19 testing

State officials believe more testing will help curb the spread of COVID-19, which has already taken the lives of 7,040 Californians.

Is California doing enough testing?

At the end of March and early April, California was conducting about 2,000 tests a day. In July, the state was averaging 105,000 tests daily, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

That far surpasses the goal of 60,000 daily tests the state set for itself back in late April. That being said, the virus is clearly still spreading. Ghaly believes even more testing will help curb the spread of the virus because it will allow COVID-19 positive patients to quarantine and isolate more quickly before spreading it to others.

California is working to shift some of the burden of testing from state-run sites to pharmacists, nurse practitioners and other health care providers.

INTERACTIVE: Here's the reopening status of every Bay Area county

San Francisco is averaging 2,600 tests a day. Santa Clara and Alameda County are both averaging closer to 3,500 tests daily.

More than 5.5 million coronavirus tests have been done since the start of the pandemic in California.

What is the test positivity rate and why should I care?

The testing positivity rate, an oft-cited statistic by Gov. Gavin Newsom in his coronavirus press briefings, is the proportion of those tested who turn back a positive result.

So if 100 people are tested for COVID-19, and 10 people test positive, then the positivity rate is 10%.

The statistic matters because it gives us a better sense of how much COVID-19 is spreading in the community. Raw case numbers may go up as a result of increased testing, so the positivity rate is a more accurate representation of how many people are getting the virus.

At the beginning of the pandemic, California's positivity rate was around 40%. That's because there was so little testing going on and it was mainly reserved for those who were already suspected of having the virus.

In May and June, as testing ramped up significantly, the positivity rate dropped to around 4%. But officials grew concerned in late June and early July as that number climbed up to 7-8%. That's when Gov. Newsom started rolling back the state's reopening plan.

If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.

Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here