Save your COVID test for the right time, SLO County Public Health urges

·4 min read

Coronavirus tests are in short supply in San Luis Obispo County, so the Public Health Department issued new recommendations for residents on how best to test.

The county issued seven guidelines for residents who might need to use a COVID test because they’re symptomatic, were exposed, recently returned from travel, attend a large gathering or any numbers of reasons.

“I would like to thank our community for seeking testing and helping protect others from this disease,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, county health officer, in a news release. “The demand for testing is a testament to a great many people in our community trying to do the right thing during this challenging time.”

These guidelines are intended to help residents maximize the use of their test in a time of scarcity, the release said.

The first recommendation is to time it well by testing after day five for the most accurate read, though anyone with symptoms should aim to get tested right away.

Public Health suggests people in need of a COVID-19 test make an appointment at any of the four community test sites across the county. Due to increased demand, the testing sites may not be able to accommodate walk-in appointments, the release said.

Patients can get free Polymerase-chain reaction (PCR) tests at any of the sites, though it may take up to two days to get the results.

The Public Health Department urges patients with mild symptoms to avoid visiting the emergency room to receive a coronavirus test.

“You’ll likely experience long wait times around others who are sick, and may delay care for someone facing severe illness. If you have severe symptoms — trouble breathing, chest pain/tightness, or severe confusion — seek emergency care right away,” the release said.

Hospitals are also overrun with COVID-19 patients and other people with routine illness and injuries who need emergency care.

Avoid fraud in the course of testing. Nobody will need to provide a Social Security number to access a coronavirus test, nor will they require proof of insurance at any of the four community testing sites run by the Public Health Department, according to the release.

The Public Health Department recommended confirming that at-home rapid tests are approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before purchasing a test or making decisions based on the results. A list of approved rapid tests is available at

Anyone who is symptomatic or tests positive should not wait to hear from the Public Health Department. Instead, quarantine or isolate immediately, the release said.

Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 with a lab or an at-home test should start isolating immediately. The Jan. 6 health order defined isolation as staying home, away from work, school and social functions. Anyone who lives with other people should stay in a sick room and avoid close contact with household residents to avoid spreading the virus.

The only reason to leave isolation is to seek medical care, according to the Jan. 6 health order.

While isolation applies to COVID-positive people, quarantine applies to those exposed to COVID-19 but who have not tested positive yet.

The release said any person exposed to COVID-19 who are not up-to-date on their vaccines should quarantine by staying home, avoiding contact with others and wear a well-fitting mask. After five days, the COVID-exposed person should take a coronavirus test, the release said.

“The recommendation to really be considered COVID-free would be to test on day five,” Borenstein said in an interview last week. “Even if you are fully vaccinated and boosted but you have had a close contact with someone who is known COVID positive, their recommendation is to test on day five.”

The Public Health Department asked that anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus with an at-home rapid test to report their results to the agency to help them track COVID case numbers in the county. More information about how to report a positive test result available at

The final recommendation from Public Health is to stay home from work and school while sick for COVID-19 symptoms to help flatten the curve.

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