To Test or Not to Test

News Team's picture
By News Team on March 19, 2020

COVID-19 has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, and many questions about it remain.

One question that the CDC has made clear, though, is when the test for COVID-19 is helpful—and when it is not. 

Paul R. Skolnik, M.D., chair of Carilion Clinic’s Department of Medicine, explains in the video above that testing is based on a particular pair of symptoms: cough and fever.

"If you have a cough and fever, contact your provider to arrange possible testing, both for COVID-19 and for other respiratory pathogens," said Dr. Skolnik.

"It’s much more likely that you have the flu than COVID-19. We’ll make sure you get the right test."

Dr. Skolnik points out that it is still flu season, and that some symptoms of influenza mirror those of COVID-19. 

“It’s much more likely that you have the flu than COVID-19," he said. "We’ll make sure you get the right test so that you get the right diagnosis.” 

The CDC also notes that there is no treatment specifically for COVID-19, so people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home.

If You Are Exposed to COVID-19

It is important that your provider knows your circumstances in addition to symptoms. If you have symptoms and call to request testing, tell your provider:

  • If you are in close contact with someone who has COVID-19
  • If you reside in a "hotspot," or a community where COVID-19 is prevalent

If You Are at High Risk

If you are at higher risk for serious illness, call your provider early, even if your symptoms are mild. This includes: 

  • Older adults
  • People living with chronic conditions
  • Cancer patients

If You Have Severe Symptoms

Seek medical attention immediately if you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19, as well as any other severe or concerning symptoms. These include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

And Dr. Skolnik offers one more bit of guidance: call ahead before seeking care at Carilion Clinic facilities. This allows us to streamline your care and keep everyone—you, other patients and your care team—as safe as possible.

Carilion Clinic message saying wash your hands and stay home when you are sick

Visit for up-to-date information about our response to COVID-19. Call our Community Hotline for general questions about symptoms, resources, guidelines and more,

COVID-19 Community Hotline

Monday - Friday, 8 a.m - 5 p.m.

Do not call the Community Hotline to make appointments, or to request testing or test results. For information about COVID-19 and your personal health, talk with your primary care provider