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Symptoms and testing

Learn about the symptoms and diagnosis of COVID-19, and how testing works.

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If you have symptoms, get tested

Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19, even mild symptoms, should get tested at a COVID-19 testing clinic.

Call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line for information about COVID-19 on 1800 020 080

Translating and interpreting services are available on 131 450.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID-19 include

  • fever (37.5 ° or higher)
  • cough
  • sore/scratchy throat
  • shortness of breath
  • loss of smell or
  • loss of taste.

Other reported symptoms include

  • fatigue
  • runny nose 
  • muscle pain
  • joint pain
  • headache
  • diarrhoea 
  • nausea/vomiting 
  • loss of appetite.

In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia with severe acute respiratory distress.

How COVID-19 is spread

Human coronaviruses are spread from someone infected with COVID-19, to other people in close contact:

  • through contaminated droplets spread by coughing or sneezing, or 
  • by contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects.

When COVID-19 symptoms appear

The amount of time between exposure to the virus and the first appearance of symptoms is usually 5 to 6 days, although it may range from 2 to 14 days.

People who might have been in contact with someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19 should self-isolate for 14 days.

You should prevent the spread of viruses, by keeping your hands clean, not touching your face and keeping your distance from other people.

Getting tested

Infection with COVID-19 is diagnosed by finding the virus in samples of respiratory fluid taken from the back of the nose and/or throat, or from the lungs.

The samples are taken at testing clinics, which operate across NSW. You can be tested at:

  • COVID-19 clinics, set up especially for testing
  • some private pathology sites 
  • some GPs.

Find nearest testing clinics

Testing clinics operate in locations all over NSW. Find your closest testing clinic

Some clinics may need you to make an online or phone booking. On the testing clinics page you can find out:

  • where a clinic is located
  • when a clinic is open  
  • if you need make booking
  • whether children are tested at the clinic
  • if you need a referral from your GP. 

Testing is free and quick.

  • A doctor or nurse will ask you about your symptoms to check for symptoms of other serious illnesses.
  • You may also be asked how we can support you. 
  • A sample of fluid may be taken from inside your nose and/or your throat using a sterile cotton-tipped medical swab.
  • No preparation is needed for a swab.
  • The swab is then sent to a laboratory for analysis.

You must go straight home and self-isolate until you get your test result.

  • You cannot leave your home unless it is to seek medical care or because of an emergency. You cannot have visitors.
  • Monitor how you feel. If symptoms become serious (e.g. shortness of breath at rest or difficulty breathing), call Triple Zero (000). Tell the ambulance staff you have been tested for COVID-19.
  • If you are sharing your home with others, you should separate yourself from them as much as possible. Wear a surgical mask when you are in the same room as another person and keep 1.5 metres away. 
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often. Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.

Getting your results

Information on how to register for an SMS result is provided when you get tested.

Results typically take 24 to 72 hours.

If you’ve been tested at a public hospital clinic or emergency department, you can also receive your result securely via

If you haven't received your results, contact the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080 for advice.

Negative result

  • If the lab finds that you do not have COVID-19, and you were tested at a COVID-19 clinic or public hospital ED and registered for text alerts, you will receive a SMS.
  • If you have not registered for SMS, you will be contacted by phone by your local Public Health Unit.

If the test is negative and you are a person who

  • is a close contact of another person with COVID-19 
  • has visited or travelled from Victoria 
  • is in home quarantine due to overseas travel 
  • has travelled to Lord Howe Island 
  • has been advised by the Public Health Unit to remain in isolation

You must continue to follow the relevant guidelines for self-isolation and remain in isolation for 14 full days.

Positive result 

If the test is positive your doctor or the public health unit will provide you with advice. The local public health unit will also contact you to interview you and identify your close contacts. The guidelines for people who have confirmed COVID-19 infection apply.

People who should get tested

Anyone with a cough, a sore or scratchy throat, shortness of breath, loss of taste, loss of smell or a fever (37.5° or higher) should be tested for COVID-19, even if symptoms are mild.

Most people without these symptoms do not require testing.

As well as people who have COVID-19 symptoms, there are other people who should consider testing.

A casual contact is someone who has been near a confirmed case of COVID-19 while they were infectious but is considered at lower risk than a close contact. They should still be vigilant and watch for symptoms but casual contacts are not required to self-isolate in their homes unless they develop symptoms.

Get tested if you develop COVID-19 symptoms.

Settings for casual contact may include healthcare workers, other patients, or visitors who were in the same closed healthcare space as a case, but for shorter periods than those required for a close contact. Other closed settings might include schools or offices.

NSW Health assess settings and interactions to determine the level of risk, this may change as further information becomes available. If you have been reassessed as a close contact you will need to isolate as per the close contact guidelines.

You need to isolate yourself in your home or another suitable place of residence if you have been identified as a close contact of a person with confirmed COVID-19 infection.

A close contact is someone who has been near enough to a person with COVID-19 while they were infectious that there is a reasonable chance they will have become infected with COVID-19. Close contact can occur in a number of places including in the home, or at other venues.

Get tested if you have:

  • been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case

  • had COVID-19 symptoms within 14 days of your last contact with that person.

NSW Health provides latest COVID-19 case locations in NSW and the action you need to take if you have visited them.

Testing is recommended for people who have recent onset of both respiratory symptoms and fever, and work in:

  • healthcare
  • aged care and other residential care facilities
  • high-risk clinical settings.

Healthcare workers who have either fever or respiratory symptoms, should be assessed for testing on an individual basis.

Testing is recommended for those who are at increased risk. This includes people who are:

  • admitted to hospital with acute respiratory illness or unexplained fever
  • experiencing acute respiratory illness or fever in high risk settings such as hospitals, aged care and other residential facilities, boarding schools and cruise ships.
  • experiencing unexplained respiratory symptoms or fever who self-identify as Aboriginal or live in Aboriginal rural and remote communities.

Testing is recommended for travellers returned from overseas who experience respiratory symptoms or fever within 14 days of return.

Quarantine orders

Public Health Orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community detail the rules regarding isloation and quarantine that travellers to NSW must follow.

  • If you arrive by air from outside Australia within 14 days before arriving, you must quarantine for 14 days.
  • If you arrive by sea from a port outside of NSW, you must quarantine for 14 days as directed by NSW Police.

Heavy penalties apply if you don’t comply with these orders.

Anyone who works in a school community and has symptoms should come forward for testing. Tell your doctor or testing provider if you have had contact with high-risk settings. 

Day care and preschool aged children (0-4 years)

  • If your child is sick, keep them at home.
  • If your child has symptoms like a runny nose, fever, cough or sore throat, call your GP.
  • In an emergency, please call Triple Zero (000) or go to your closest emergency department.
  • See the raisingchildren.net.au COVID-19 family guide.

Primary school children (5-11 years)

  • If your child is sick, keep them at home.
  • For primary school aged children with symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP and ask about getting your child tested.
  • If you visit a public testing clinic, check that your local clinic tests children 11 years and under.
  • See the raisingchildren.net.au COVID-19 family guide.

Secondary school children (12-17 years)

  • If your teenager is sick, keep them at home and get them tested for COVID-19.
  • If you visit a public testing clinic, check that your local clinic tests children 17 years and under.

     

Common questions about COVID-19 testing

You only need to have ONE symptom to get tested, and it can be mild.

If you have a symptom, don’t delay. Get tested and self-isolate straight away.

Testing for COVID-19 can be uncomfortable but shouldn’t be painful.

Swabs are tested for COVID-19 and sometimes other viruses only. The COVID-19 swabs are not tested for drugs, cancer or anything else.

Yes, it’s safe to get tested. All medical staff wear protective gear and there’ll be a safe place to wait.

Testing is free at public testing clinics, even if you’re from overseas.

Testing is also free at private testing sites, however, as a referral is required, the General Practitioner (GP) may charge a fee for the initial consultation, and then again to receive the result from the GP.

No, you don’t need a Medicare card to get tested for COVID-19.

Last updated: 4 September 2020

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