Understanding COVID-19 Screening vs Testing

Posted on 9 April 2020


It may be confusing when information sent out about COVID-19 refers to screening and testing. Many may tend to think that this is the same thing. We take a moment to explain the process for being tested – and what each phase involves:

Performing a Screening:

Since not everyone needs to be tested, the health worker performing the screening will be asking questions relating to your symptoms and any known exposure. Symptoms include having a fever, difficulty breathing, a persistent or worsening cough, sore throat, body weakness or aches, nausea, severe headaches and dizziness or lightheadedness.

Possible exposure could include recent international travel, known exposure to a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient or working within a healthcare environment.

Should you wish to perform your own initial screening, you can complete our online assessment for testing. This will indicate whether you should proceed to the next stage. The online assessment does not replace a clinical examination, but can provide peace of mind and guidance on any potential further actions.

By reviewing your symptoms and exposure opportunities, a decision is made whether you (or the patient) meets the case definition* for COVID-19 and whether or not you may be at increased risk.

*The case definition is provided by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Testing for COVID-19

Should you meet the case definition for testing by presenting with particular symptoms; you will then undergo the swab test. This involves a swab being taken at the back of your nasal passages as well as one of your throat. These swabs are then sent to a pathology laboratory where the samples are processed, using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) molecular test.

The health worker will also complete a set of compulsory paperwork to record possible contacts and other key information, to be used if the results are positive.

If you are experiencing mild symptoms, the health worker will advise you to go home and self-quarantine until the results of the tests are known. You will also be provided with information on how to self-isolate. Mediclinic has a handy guide available for your use.

If your condition is a concern, you may be admitted for treatment of your symptoms pending the results of your test. When admitted, you will likely be allocated an isolation room as a precaution to reduce the risk of any transmission should you have the virus.

What happens when the results come back?

Should the result be negative, you will be allowed to come out of self-quarantine, but are still urged to practice physical distancing and continue with good hand hygiene and other precautions to avoid transmission from others.

Should the result be positive, you will be informed by the doctor who requested or performed the test. The NICD will also trace your recent contacts and inform them that you have tested positive. You will be required to stay in self-quarantine until the medical practitioner you are liaising with indicates it is safe for you to be de-isolated. Breaking quarantine/isolation with a positive COVID-19 result places many other people at risk for the disease and is a punishable offence.

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In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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