Where to Get Tested for Coronavirus in Philadelphia

With new testing methods and sites constantly being developed and opened, here's the latest on where to get tested for coronavirus and what the new exams tell us about the disease.

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More than 73,000 people in Philadelphia have been tested for coronavirus since March 16, when the city first began tracking cases of COVID-19. In recent weeks, the city has opened a slew of new sites for testing, and new types of COVID-19 tests have emerged that reveal more than just a positive or negative diagnosis. Here’s the latest information on where and how to get tested for coronavirus in Philadelphia.

Should you get tested?

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s guidance on COVID-19 testing mirrors that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you’re experiencing two or more COVID-19 symptoms: cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat or new loss of taste or smell, the Department of Public Health recommends you find a place to get tested.

Previously, COVID-19 tests in Philadelphia were being reserved for first responders, healthcare workers and patients who were directly referred by their medical providers. Earlier this month, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley announced changes to the city’s guidance on testing. Now, if you have symptoms, you can get tested regardless of your age or occupation. Sites in Philadelphia are still prioritizing tests for people with coronavirus symptoms who are hospitalized, have chronic medical conditions, reside or work in congregate settings, are essential workers, or are close contacts of those in cluster cases.

Where can you go to be tested?

As of May 28, Philadelphia has at least 50 official sites for COVID-19 testing. The testing sites include urgent care centers, small family practices, large medical centers, public health centers and popular pharmacy chain stores. Ten of the 50 sites offer drive-thru testing, and more than half of the sites are open seven days a week. You can search by your address to find a testing site near you here. According to the City, tests don’t require money, insurance, or proof of citizenship but some private testing sites may have other requirements.

What kind of COVID-19 test can you get?

The Molecular Test

The most widely available and commonly known test for coronavirus is a molecular test. For this test, doctors use a cotton swab to collect mucus from a patient’s nose or throat. The swab is then placed in a tube and sent to a lab where scientists use a technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to determine whether the virus’s genetic code is present in the sample. If a patient has coronavirus, the infected viral cells in the sample will multiply when the PCR technique is applied.

This type of test is being administered at sites throughout the city. The process is so simple that Rite-Aid stores recently began offering a do-it-yourself COVID-19 test that can be completed in a matter of minutes without the help of a healthcare professional. Beginning May 29th, CVS Pharmacy stores will begin offering self-swab molecular tests via its pharmacy drive-thru windows. Molecular tests are useful for understanding how many people have been infected with the virus, but they do not confirm whether a patient will be immune to future infection.

The Serology/Antibody Test

When our immune system encounters an infection, it produces proteins called antibodies that help destroy the microorganisms that cause disease. When we recover from an infection, some of those disease-fighting antibodies remain in the immune system to fight future instances of the same type of infection. For a while, doctors did not know whether patients who recovered from COVID-19 would develop antibodies against the virus. Now that we know COVID-19 patients do indeed produce antibodies against the virus, the CDC and several commercial manufacturers have developed serology or antibody tests for COVID-19.

For this test, doctors take a blood sample from a patient to a lab where they assess whether antibodies in the patient’s blood cells bind to or attack coronavirus cells. If they bind, the test confirms that the person has had coronavirus in the past and has since developed antibodies against it. This test will help public health leaders take a true count of how many people across the U.S. have been infected with the virus, including those who never had any symptoms of the virus and never received a molecular test. Several COVID-19 testing sites in Philadelphia have begun offering antibody tests to people who have gone more than 10 days without symptoms after contracting the virus. But health officials caution that serology tests still do not confirm whether the antibodies found in a person who was previously infected with COVID-19 can protect them from getting the virus again.

What other COVID-19 tests exist?

The Antigen Test

Like molecular tests, antigen tests require a doctor to take a swab of a patient’s nose or throat. But instead of using the PCR technique to determine the presence of genetic material from the virus, this test detects antigens or smaller proteins from the virus. The antigen test could be useful because it may be able to detect the virus faster than current molecular tests do; taking minutes instead of days to produce test results.

This month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization to Quidel Corporation for its COVID-19 antigen test. This is the first antigen test for COVID-19 to be approved by the FDA. The approval is so recent, the tests may not yet readily available at all testing sites in Philadelphia.