Testing for COVID-19

Why testing is important

Most people who contract COVID-19 will recover; however, some people are at higher risk of complications. If you think you may have COVID-19, or if you have been in contact with someone who has COVID-19, you should contact your local health authority for advice about testing.

Knowing if you are infected is important for protecting:

Testing for the presence of the virus is the only way we can confirm if someone currently has COVID-19.

Testing helps reduce the spread of the virus. When people are confirmed to have COVID-19, they can be isolated at home, or if needed, in a hospital.

Testing tells us:

Testing is a key tool to:

Contact tracing

Once someone is confirmed to have COVID-19, public health officials will interview them. This helps them to identify people that they may have been in contact with while they were contagious.

This is called contact tracing. It’s a key public health measure to slow down or stop the spread of the virus in our communities.

By tracking down their contacts, public health officials can tell individuals that they may have been exposed to the virus. Once identified, these individuals can then monitor themselves for symptoms, and follow recommended public health measures.

Testing Canadians

The Public Health Agency of Canada has developed guidance, through the federal, provincial and territorial COVID-19 Special Advisory Committee, to support a national approach to testing in Canada and to optimize the use of local resources in protecting the health of Canadians across the country. Each province and territory will determine individually how they implement this guidance, based on regional differences and local context.

See the number of people tested in Canada to date.

Diagnosing COVID-19

People with COVID-19 can have:

To decide who should be tested, health care professionals assess people based on their:

How we test for COVID-19

Currently in Canada, there are 3 ways of testing for COVID-19. Your health care provider will determine the right test for you.

Molecular PCR and point-of-care testing

Molecular PCR and point-of-care tests detect the virus and diagnose COVID-19. If you are being tested for a possible current case of COVID-19, you will receive one these tests.

Molecular PCR test

Point-of-care test

Since point-of-care technology can only test a limited number of samples in a single machine, it’s used in places where it’s needed most, including:

Antibody testing (serology)

Health care providers may have access to blood tests, called serological tests, which are used to see who may have already had the virus. These detect the presence of antibodies produced by your immune system in response to an infection. A positive serological test means that someone has been exposed to the virus in the past, but cannot reliably indicate how long ago that exposure occurred. As a result, they are not used to diagnose a case of COVID-19 in early stages of infection, since they don’t detect the virus itself.

Serological tests can help us:

All tests must be performed by a health care professional. At-home sample collection test kits or home test kits have not been authorized for sale. 

Watch how health care professionals test for COVID-19.

Test accuracy

Test accuracy can vary during the course of your illness. For example, depending on when a test is conducted, it could result in false negative results if there’s not enough virus in your body at the time of the test. False positive results are also possible. Health care professionals make their diagnosis decisions based on a number of factors, including test results.

When to get tested

Public health authorities in every province and territory have developed their own

approaches for testing people, based on the local context in each area.

For information about COVID-19 testing in your area, contact your local public health authority.

How to get tested

If you think you might have COVID-19:

Role of Health Canada in authorizing tests

As an emergency public health measure, Health Canada is allowing expedited access to COVID-19-related medical devices, including testing devices.

COVID-19 tests authorized by Health Canada are supported by evidence that they are accurate and reliable. More than a dozen COVID-19 testing devices are now authorized in Canada.

Only testing devices authorized by Health Canada can be imported or sold in Canada. Unauthorized tests may not produce accurate results, leading to potential misdiagnosis. Health Canada:

Role of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory

The National Microbiology Laboratory is working with public health laboratories nationwide to:

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