COVID-19 Testing FAQs

The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) is sharing answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 testing.

Questions are organized into the following sections:

  • General questions about COVID-19 testing
  • Test results
  • Testing yourself for COVID-19
  • Testing information for travelers

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General questions about COVID-19 testing

If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, isolate at home, contact your primary care provider, and get tested right away. 

You should also get tested if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.  If you’ve been exposed to someone who tested positive, get tested 5 days after the last time you were with that person. To learn more, visit covid.ri.gov/whattodo.

Federal programs are available to support access to COVID-19 testing for people without health insurance.

  • Increasing Community Access to Testing (ICATT) for COVID-19: CDC’s ICATT program can help you find where to get a free COVID-19 laboratory test whether or not you have insurance. These tests can tell if you have a current COVID-19 infection. You’ll get a result usually within 24–72 hours after you get tested.
  • Test To Treat Program: Through this program, people are able to get tested and – if they are positive and treatments are appropriate for them – get a prescription from a healthcare provider, and have their prescription filled all at one location. A Test to Treat locator is available to help find participating sites. Some sites on the locator can only fill a prescription, and require that a healthcare provider evaluate and prescribe you COVID-19 medication just as they normally would. A call center is also available at 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489) to get help in English, Spanish, and more than 150 other languages – 8 am to midnight, 7 days a week. 

There are places in Rhode Island that test uninsured individuals for free. If you are uninsured and don’t know whether a site offers free testing, please call the site to confirm before making an appointment. Some local pharmacies and clinics offer free COVID-19 testing to people who don’t have health insurance. These locations may only test you if have symptoms or are a close contact of someone who tested positive. If you don’t have insurance, the pharmacy or clinic will submit the cost of your test to a federal program for the uninsured.

Most insurance plans should cover the cost of a test for individuals who are symptomatic or were exposed to someone who is positive (close contact). However, some insurance plans will not cover general asymptomatic testing or testing for travelers. The best way to look for information on what your medical insurance policy will cover is by checking with your insurance company. 

Some private clinics or pharmacies may request identification or insurance information during the test scheduling process. Call ahead to ask if they offer COVID-19 testing to patients without insurance. 

Schools and districts have developed their own testing programs based on RIDOH’s recommendations. Contact your child’s school or district to find out if COVID-19 testing is available. If testing is available, you can complete a consent form to allow your child to participate in testing. Students 16 and older do not need a signed consent form to get tested at school. There is no cost to participate in COVID-19 testing in school. Insurance is not required. 

For more information about the return to 100% in-person learning in Rhode Island’s schools, visit back2schoolri.com.

If you’re required to provide proof of a negative test result before attending an indoor event or gathering, you should make an appointment to get tested at your local pharmacy. Most locations charge a fee for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. If you’re not required to provide proof of a negative result but would like to know your COVID-19 status before or after attending an indoor gathering or event, you should test yourself for COVID-19 at home.

If you’re planning to visit someone who is immunocompromised, you should use a COVID-19 self-test kit so you can test yourself right before you see that person.

Nursing home facilities that are requiring guests to take a test before entry should have rapid antigen tests on-hand to meet this need. If they don’t, you should test yourself at home, visit your local pharmacy to get tested, or contact your primary care provider.  

If someone in your household recently tested positive for COVID-19, contact your primary care provider for further guidance and testing. You may also get tested at a local pharmacy, respiratory clinic, or test yourself at home.To learn more, visit covid.ri.gov/whattodo.

If you’ve been identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, you should get tested 5 days after the last time you were with that person. Contact your primary care provider for further guidance and testing. You may also get tested at a local pharmacy, respiratory clinic, or State-run site.  

If you recently tested positive for COVID-19, RIDOH does not recommend getting tested again for the following 90 days. Someone who has COVID-19 can continue to get a positive test result for up to 90 days.

  • If you need to provide proof of a current or previous infection to your school or employer, you can submit a letter request to RIDOH using this web form.
  • If you tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 90 days and new symptoms develop, call your healthcare provider, and ask if you should get tested again.

Serology testing looks for proteins in the blood called antibodies, which are produced by the body in response to the presence of a virus. Serology testing tells us whether someone was previously exposed to a virus and helps us understand the spread of a virus in a community and the state. Supplementing what we learn from diagnostic testing with antibody testing is important to understand how COVID-19 is spreading in the state and to support people and communities that are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

  • Serology testing does not tell us whether someone is immune to COVID-19. We are still learning whether the presence of antibodies protects someone from future infection, and if so, for how long. Therefore, it is important that people continue to take measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Anyone can get a serology test through a primary care provider (PCP). Speak with a PCP to learn more about the testing procedure and the costs associated with serology testing.
  • For more information, visit this web page from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Testing results

If you were tested at a medical office, retail pharmacy, your workplace, or in school, contact the location where you were tested for a copy of your result.

  • The State does not directly operate testing programs that take place in medical offices, retail pharmacies, workplaces, or in schools. As a result, some testing programs only report positive results to the Department of Health. 
  • It is the responsibility of the location where you were tested to communicate results to you.

If your test result was reported to RIDOH, you will get a text message or email notifying you that you can access your result on portal.ri.gov/results

  • This user guide has step-by-step instructions for accessing results on the portal. 
  • If you need help getting your test results, call 401-222-8022 or email [email protected]

A positive test result means that the test detected the virus. If you test positive for COVID-19, stay home (isolate) for at least 5 days. Someone with COVID-19 needs to isolate even if they don’t have symptoms. Only leave isolation for medical emergencies. For more information about how long you should stay home and what you should do after ending isolation, visit covid.ri.gov/whattodo.

A negative test result means that you did not have COVID-19 at the time your sample was collected. Continue to protect your household from COVID-19.

If you start having any symptoms of COVID-19 after your test, call your healthcare provider and ask if you should be tested again.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 and got a negative result on a rapid antigen test, RIDOH recommends getting a lab-processed test to confirm your test result. 

Get vaccinated if you're not yet. Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine. 

An inconclusive test result means that you might be infected with COVID-19 and another sample is needed to determine if you are truly infected. An inconclusive result can happen if you are tested in the very early or late stages of infection when the amount of virus in your body is low. It can also happen if your swab did not collect enough of a sample.

You should isolate away from others and get tested again as soon as possible. For a list of COVID-19 testing options, visit covid.ri.gov/testing. 

Testing yourself for COVID-19 at home

Kits that you can use to test yourself for COVID-19 are available at local pharmacies and through online retailers. Local community-based organizations and schools may also distribute free COVID-19 self-test kits to their community. 

If you are blind or have low vision, you can order more accessible tests online or by calling 1-800-232-0233. These tests will be available for order until supplies run out. 

You can buy kits to test yourself for COVID-19 at local pharmacies and through online retailers. Sometimes a COVID-19 self-test is also called an at-home test or an over-the counter (OTC) test. Private health insurers are required to cover the cost of up to eight tests per month. Every insurer is different. Check your insurance company’s policy to see how you can get reimbursed or if you need to file a claim. 

Medicare enrollees won’t have the same reimbursement policy as people with private insurance. But those who have Medicare Advantage should ask if their plans cover the cost of COVID-19 self-tests. Medicare enrollees can get free self-test kits from community health centers or Medicare-certified health clinics.

State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs are required to cover at-home COVID-19 tests with no out-of-pocket costs under the American Rescue Plan Act. 

For more information about how to get reimbursed for the cost of your self-test kit, visit this web page.  

Each test kit comes with instructions, which may include specific storage requirements. Storing your self-test kit in conditions outside of the manufacturer’s recommendations could impact the accuracy of your test. In general, test kits should be stored at room temperature. They should not be allowed to freeze. During winter months, make sure any self-test kits aren't left in a vehicle or outdoors for long periods of time. 

Yes. If your self-test result is positive, it is very likely that you have COVID-19. To report your self-test result to RIDOH, visit portal.ri.gov/s/selftest.  

Stay home (isolate) for at least 5 days. Someone with COVID-19 needs to isolate even if they don’t have symptoms. Only leave isolation for medical emergencies. For more information about how long you should stay home and what you should do after ending isolation, visit covid.ri.gov/whattodo. 

Tell your close contacts that they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and should get tested 5 days after when they were last with you. Your close contacts can learn about quarantine requirements and recommendations at covid.ri.gov/whattodo.  

Tell a healthcare provider about your positive test result and stay in contact with them. 

  • There are effective treatments for COVID-19 infection. A healthcare provider can treat you for COVID-19 based on a self-test result. A healthcare provider may want to test you again to make sure your self-test result is accurate. 

  • Call 911 or get yourself to the nearest hospital if you think you are having a medical emergency. This can include trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, the inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face. 

If you think your self-test result may be incorrect, you should test yourself again within a few days, with at least 24 hours between tests. You should consider testing yourself again if: 

  • You have symptoms and get a negative result on your self-test, or 

  • You don’t have symptoms and get a positive result on your self-test. Isolate at home if you get a positive result on your self-test, even if you don’t have symptoms.  

You can also get another test at a local pharmacy, respiratory clinic, or by a healthcare provider. You don’t need to get tested again at a testing site to confirm your self-test result, but it may be helpful if: 

  • Your self-test result was positive, and you need to provide proof to your school or employer. RIDOH cannot provide an isolation letter based on a self-test result. 

  • You’re traveling or attending an event and need to provide proof of a negative test result. Countries, airlines, or some event venues may not accept a self-test as proof of a negative result.  

To report your self-test result to RIDOH, visit portal.ri.gov/s/selftest or download the 401Health app. You are not required to report self-test results to RIDOH.  

RIDOH cannot provide the following based on a self-test result:

  • Referrals to services or supports for individuals who need assistance during isolation or quarantine.
  • A letter for missed work or school due to isolation based on a positive self-test result. If a letter is required, contact a healthcare provider.
  • Documentation of infection within the past 90 days based on a positive self-test result.

You may throw away your used self-test kit in the trash. There are no special instructions for disposal. This is different from when similar kits are used in mass quantities at test sites. Test sites must treat used kits as medical waste and dispose of them appropriately.  

If your self-test kit has expired, you should not use it to determine whether you have COVID-19. However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended the expiration date for some rapid self-test kits. This means that some test kits can be used for a certain period of time after the expiration date that was originally marked on the box. Before throwing away your expired self-test kit, check to see if it has been granted an extended expiration date.

According to the FDA, an extended expiration date means the manufacturer provided data showing that the test’s shelf-life is longer than was known when the test was first authorized. In most cases, the FDA grants an extension of 6 months. For more information about how a test kit’s expiration date is determined and why it may be extended, review the FDA’s frequently asked questions about COVID-19 rapid self-test kits.     

If the test kits that you received have been granted an extension, please don’t discard them once the expiration date marked on the box has passed. You can continue to use the test and have confidence in its results until the extended expiration date has passed. 

If your test kits have expired and were not granted an extension, you may throw them away in the trash.

If you think your test result is wrong, you may test yourself again after 24 hours have passed. You may also call their primary care provider or go to a local pharmacy to be tested by a professional. For additional guidance, please refer to this flyer or visit covid.ri.gov/testing.   

To find out if your self-test kit was granted an extended expiration date, visit the FDA’s website, the test kit manufacturer’s website, or contact the test kit manufacturer directly.

For more information about how a test kit’s expiration date is determined and why it may be extended, review the FDA’s frequently asked questions about COVID-19 rapid self-test kits

COVID-19 testing for travelers

You’re no longer required to quarantine or get tested upon your arrival in Rhode Island whether or not you're up to date on your COVID-19 vaccinations. To lower the chances of catching and spreading COVID-19, RIDOH recommends all travelers follow quarantine and testing guidance from the CDC. To learn more about Rhode Island’s quarantine and testing recommendations for travelers, visit covid.ri.gov/travel.

Always watch for symptoms for 14 days after travel. If you develop symptoms, isolate at home away from others, and get tested right away

 

Check with the health department in the state or country you are traveling to for testing requirements. Some locations require proof of a negative PCR test result. Others will accept a rapid antigen test but may not accept a result from a self-administered test at home.

Some locations and airlines require travelers to provide proof of a negative test result taken within a specific timeframe prior to arrival.  Make sure you have enough time to get your test result before you travel. 

If you’re departing Rhode Island, you can get a COVID-19 test by making an appointment at a pharmacy or clinic.

If you’re departing from Boston Logan International Airport, you can schedule a COVID-19 test by going to xprescheck.com.

Check with the health department in the state or country you are traveling to for testing requirements. Some locations require proof of a negative PCR test result. Others will accept a rapid antigen test but may not accept a result from a self-administered test at home.

 

If you’re required to provide proof of a negative test result for travel outside of Rhode Island, you should make an appointment to get tested at your local pharmacy. Most locations charge a fee for travel-related COVID-19 testing. 

For more information, visit covid.ri.gov/travel. For travel guidance from the CDC, visit this web page.