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Testing for COVID-19

December 7, 2021

On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO), designated a new variant of concern, called Omicron. The existence of a new variant of concern and the approaching holidays has made it all the more important to continue to test for COVID-19.

Vaccines are still the most effective way to protect yourself and others against the virus, and New York City is offering vaccines free of charge for all ages. This includes the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11. Additionally, neither immigration status nor health insurance needs to be shared in order to receive a shot. You can search for appointments by using the vaccine finder tool.

Just as COVID-19 vaccines are free, COVID-19 testing is also offered with no cost. They are confidential, safe, and anyone can get tested.

NYC Health + Hospitals has a number of locations where testing is available across the five boroughs at hospitals, health centers, and pop-up locations. Testing is walk in only with no appointment needed unless an at-home test is requested.

Types of testing available

NYC Health + Hospitals’ available tests include PCR tests, rapid molecular tests, rapid antigen tests at Test & Trace mobile units, and saliva self-testing. Children who are 2 years of age or older may be tested at any of the sites. However, saliva self-testing is for children 4 years of age or older.

PCR tests, or molecular tests are a kind of COVID-19 test that detects genetic material of the virus using a lab technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A sample is collected by inserting a nasal swab into each nostril and rotating the soft end of the swab against the inside for a few seconds. Results for these tests may take longer to receive as samples are sent to labs outside the testing site. In NYC, the turnaround time to get results back is about one day.

Rapid molecular test samples and rapid antigen test samples are collected the same way as PCR tests. The results for these tests can be made available within minutes since a swab was taken and are processed onsite. Rapid antigen tests detect the presence of certain proteins in the virus that causes COVID-19.

Saliva self-testing is only available at certain locations. Saliva samples are taken by the individual themselves.

Mobile testing sites move throughout the city into various locations throughout the boroughs, and stay in one location on specific dates. Some mobile units double as vaccination sites. Available tests in mobile sites can vary.

It is also possible to request at-home testing scheduled in advance for all New Yorkers that have been in close contact (being within 6 feet for at least 10 minutes over a 24-hour period) with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Individuals who are immunocompromised, aged 65+, or both, can request for at-home testing services as well. At-home tests are conducted by a clinician who will collect a sample from the individual.

To request an at-home test, New Yorkers may schedule an appointment by calling 929-298-9400. Appointments for at-home testing are available seven days per week, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Who should get tested?

Getting tested can help with both peace of mind and mitigating the spread of the virus. If you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 including a fever, chills, shortness of breath, or any of the wide range of known symptoms, you should get tested immediately. Your doctor may also recommend that you get tested.

People who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 should also consider weekly testing if they frequent in-person social interactions with others, especially if they are around people who are not wearing masks indoors.

According to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), you should be tested if you have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. If you are fully vaccinated, you should be tested within 3-5 days of being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19. If you are unvaccinated, it is imperative that you are tested as soon as possible after a known exposure.

For both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, it is recommended that you are tested before and after attending a gathering, especially if there are others present who are not fully vaccinated or who are at risk of getting severe COVID. For both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, it is also recommended that you are tested before traveling and 3-5 days after travel.

Stay informed

NYC Department of Health and Hygiene

COVID-19 Testing: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)