What COVID-19 test should I do?
Information on which COVID-19 test best suits you.
Who should do a COVID-19 test?
You should do a COVID-19 test if you have COVID-19 symptoms and you are at higher risk of severe illness (see list below). This is so that you can access early treatment including antiviral medicines.
If you have cold or flu symptoms and you are not at higher risk of severe illness, you should:
- Stay at home until you are well. Wear a mask to protect others if you have symptoms and need to leave home.
- Avoid visiting people at higher risk of severe illness and high risk settings such as hospitals, aged care or disability care facilities.
- Call your doctor if you are worried about your symptoms. If you can’t contact your doctor, use the online Service Finder to find one near you or call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
- Do a rapid antigen test (RAT) if you have one and want to check if you have COVID-19.
Who is at higher risk of severe illness?
- all people aged 70 years and older
- people aged over 50 years with additional risk factors, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease (including moderate or severe asthma requiring inhaled steroids), neurological disease, severe chronic liver or kidney disease, active cancer, or those who are not up to date with recommended vaccination
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 30 years and over with additional risk factors listed above
- people who are moderately to severely immunocompromised of any age
- people with significant or complex disability
- pregnant women
- children with complex chronic conditions.
If you live in a remote area and have reduced access to healthcare, or you are a resident in an aged care or disability care facility, discuss your risk with your doctor. You may be eligible for antiviral medicines or additional supportive care.
What COVID-19 test should I get?
There are 2 types of tests you can take to check if you have COVID-19:
- a rapid antigen test (RAT) that you can do yourself
- a PCR test that can be taken by your doctor, or a private pathology provider. Speak to your doctor to get a pathology referral form and to ask where to get a PCR test. PCR tests are free for anyone with Medicare.
If you are at higher risk of severe illness
- Before you have symptoms: Speak to your doctor about which test is right for you before you get sick. Ask your doctor about having a PCR test and if they recommend antiviral medicines or other treatments for COVID-19 if you test positive.
What if you already have symptoms? Do a RAT as soon as possible and contact your doctor for testing advice. Your doctor may also recommend a COVID-19 PCR test or test for other respiratory viruses. Early diagnosis means you can access antiviral medicines quickly. COVID-19 antiviral medicines work best if taken as soon as possible, and within 5 days from when your symptoms start. Read more on antiviral medicines including how to access them if you are eligible. Wear a mask to protect others if you have symptoms and need to leave home.
If you can’t contact your doctor, use the online Service Finder to find one near you or call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (free and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week). Healthdirect is staffed by registered nurses who can provide expert health advice and connect you to care. If you need an interpreter, the nurse will arrange one for you. Find out more about protecting yourself from COVID-19 if you are higher risk of severe illness.
What should I do with the results?
NSW Health recommends you stay at home if you have cold or flu symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever) even if you test negative for COVID-19. This is so you don’t infect other people.
Rapid antigen tests (RATs)
If you have COVID-19 symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, cough and fever) and:
- your RAT is positive, stay home and follow the advice for people testing positive to COVID-19
- your RAT is negative, and you are at higher risk of severe illness, ask your doctor if you should have a PCR test. This will give a more accurate result.
- your RAT is negative, and you are not at higher risk of severe illness, stay home until your symptoms have settled. If you are worried, talk to your doctor.
If you have a positive PCR test result, you likely have COVID-19. You should stay home and follow the advice for people testing positive to COVID-19. If you are at higher risk of severe illness contact your doctor straight away and tell them your test result is positive. Your doctor will discuss your care and give you medical support if needed. This may be a prescription for antiviral medicines if you are eligible. COVID-19 antiviral medicines work best if taken as soon as possible, and within 5 days from when your symptoms start.