Testing for COVID-19
COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. To find out if you have COVID-19, you must be tested by an official healthcare worker at a special COVID-19 test centre or in your home. Some people may also get a COVID-19 test in hospital before they have a hospital procedure.
Who can get tested?
You may be tested for COVID-19 if you have developed at least one of these symptoms:
- Fever (high temperature)
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of taste or smell
You may also be tested if you have been in close contact with a confirmed case (even if you do not have symptoms). In this case, you will be phoned by a ‘contact tracer’ who will arrange your appointment for you.
A close contact can be if:
- You had face-to-face contact within 2 metres of an infected person for more than 15 minutes
- You live in the same house or accommodation as an infected person
- You sat within 2 seats of an infected person, in any direction, on an airplane
- You spent more than 2 hours in a closed space with an infected person, such as an office or a classroom
If you are a close contact, you should restrict your movements for 14 days, even if you receive a negative COVID-19 test result.
What to do if you have symptoms of COVID-19
If you think you might have COVID-19, you should phone your GP. Do not go to the GP clinic. If you do not have a GP, you can find a GP in your area.
Your GP will carry out an assessment over the phone. This assessment is free (including for non-medical card holders).
If your doctor thinks you need a COVID-19 test, they will arrange the test for you. You will be sent your appointment details by text message (including the exact location and time of your appointment).
If your GP thinks that you do not need a test, you should stay at home until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours.
You should self-isolate while waiting for your appointment. This means you stay indoors and avoid contact with other people. The people in your household should restrict their movements. You can get more information in our document on the difference between restricted movement and self-isolation.
The test for COVID-19 is simple and usually takes 15 minutes (or less). If you cannot drive yourself to the test centre, you can ask someone from your household to take you.
If you cannot attend a test centre, you may be tested at home.
When you arrive at a test centre, a healthcare worker will:
- Confirm your identity and contact details
- Give you a face mask to wear
- Explain what will happen next
If you are at a drive-thru test centre, you will be asked to stay in your car. A healthcare worker will come to the vehicle and do the test through the window.
If you are at a regular test centre, the healthcare worker will take you into the test centre.
You will be asked to blow your nose into a tissue. This can be thrown into a bin bag provided.
The healthcare worker will then use a swab (similar to a long cotton bud) to take a sample from the back of your throat and nose. You may feel some discomfort during the swabbing, but it is not painful.
The healthcare worker will then send your sample to a lab where it will be tested for COVID-19.
Waiting for your results
You should continue to self-isolate while you are waiting for your results. If you were tested because you are a close contact and do not have symptoms, you should continue to restrict your movements.
You should also make a list of everyone you had close contact with during the 48 hour period before you developed symptoms. If your results are positive, a ‘contact tracing team’ will ask you for their names and contact details.
Your results will be sent to you by text or you may get a phone call. The Health Service Executive (HSE) website explains what your test results mean.
If you had symptoms of COVID-19 and do not get a negative test result, you should continue to self-isolate until:
- You have had no fever for 5 days and
- It has been 10 days since you first developed symptoms
If you had symptoms of COVID-19 and you get a negative test result, you should continue to self-isolate until you have not had any symptoms for 48 hours.
If you had to restrict your movements because you were a close contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, you should continue to do so even if you have received a negative COVID-19 test result. This is because it can take up to 14 days for COVID-19 to show up in your system after you have been exposed to it.
You will be tested again 7 days after your last contact with the confirmed case.
If you had to restrict your movements because you recently came to Ireland, you should continue to do so for 14 days, even if you receive a negative COVID-19 test result.
If a child is tested, you can learn about results of a COVID-19 test for a child under the age of 13.
If you test positive for COVID-19, a contact tracer will call you. The contact tracer will ask you for the contact details of anyone you have been in close contact with. This process is known as contact tracing.
If you have symptoms, the contact tracer will need to know about the people and places you visited in the 48 hours before your symptoms started and until you started self-isolating.
If you test positive for COVID-19 but you do not have symptoms, they will ask you about the people and places you visited in the 24 hours before your test took place and until you started self-isolating.
Contact tracers do not ask about people you may have passed by on the street or in a shop.
COVID Tracker app
The HSE provides a contact-tracing app called ‘COVID Tracker’.
If you download the COVID Tracker app to your phone, it can alert you if you have been in close contact with someone else who uses the app and has tested positive for coronavirus. You won't know who the contact is or where the contact happened.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you will be asked if you want to share anonymous data logged by the app to alert other users who have been in close contact with you.
The app uses Bluetooth technology and anonymous IDs to log other nearby phones that have the app and to identify phones that have been closer than 2 metres for more than 15 minutes. This data is stored on your phone unless you choose to share it with the HSE if you test positive.
You can also use the app to track symptoms and get advice.
You can download the app for free if your smartphone:
- Is less than 5 years old
- Uses iOS 13.5 (or higher) or Android 6.0 (or higher)
To find out more about the app, and to download it, visit covidtracker.gov.ie.