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
  • Testing yourself for COVID-19
  • Testing and the COVID-19 vaccine
  • 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 had close contact with someone who tested positive, get tested 5 days after the last time you were with that person. You may also have to quarantine. To learn more about quarantine requirements and recommendations, visit covid.ri.gov/whattodo.

There are several ways to get tested for COVID-19 in Rhode Island. Click here to find the test site closest to you.

  • Primary care offices: Call your primary care provider or child’s pediatrician. Ask if they do point-of-care testing or if they can schedule a test for you.
  • Retail pharmacies: Make an appointment for a COVID-19 test at a pharmacy near you.
  • Respiratory clinics: Some respiratory clinics will accept new patients or patients from other healthcare practices. 
  • State-run test sites: If you or a dependent child have symptoms of COVID-19 or are a close contact of someone who tested positive, you may schedule a free test at a State-run COVID-19 test site.  Schedule online at portal.ri.gov or by calling 401-222-8022.
  • Test yourself for COVID-19: Kits that you can use to test yourself for COVID-19 are available through federal distribution programs, local pharmacies, and online retailers. All Rhode Islanders can order free COVID-19 self-test kits directly from the federal government. To learn more, visit covidtests.gov.

The State of Rhode Island will cover the cost of COVID-19 testing for anyone without insurance who gets tested at a State-run test site.

Some of the respiratory clinics and pharmacies listed here offer free COVID-19 testing.

  • There may be a cost associated with testing at locations that are not directly operated by the State, like retail pharmacies or medical offices.
  • When you make an appointment, confirm that the site provides free testing and related services.

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. 

Patients are not required to provide identification, proof of citizenship, or insurance information to get tested at a State-run site. You will be asked to provide insurance information during the scheduling process, but this information is not required. The cost of testing will either be covered by your insurance provider or the State. 

State-run test sites offer rapid antigen and PCR testing for people who have symptoms of COVID-19 or people who have recently been identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive.  

In alignment with the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rhode Island has shifted the testing strategy at State-run COVID-19 testing sites to focus on people who have symptoms of COVID-19 and people who are close contacts of someone who tested positive.

Focusing testing efforts at Rhode Island's State-run testing sites on people who are symptomatic and people who are close contacts will ensure that people who are positive and eligible for treatment can be quickly connected to treatment. Treatment is one of the many reasons why we have seen such a drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

People who are asymptomatic and aren't a close contact but want to be tested for COVID-19 can access testing through most pharmacies, clinics, and primary care providers throughout the state. These same asymptomatic testing options should be used by people who need to be tested before travel.

You can also test yourself for COVID-19 at home if you are unable to access a testing facility. Self-test kits are available at local pharmacies and are free through most insurance plans. For more information about testing options in Rhode Island, visit covid.ri.gov/testing.

State-run test sites offer rapid antigen and PCR testing for people who have symptoms of COVID-19 or people who have recently been identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive.  

Anyone who gets tested at a State-run site will get swabbed twice to collect two specimens. The first swab is a rapid antigen test that is processed at the test site. The second swab is a PCR test that is sent to a lab. 

  • If your rapid antigen test result is positive, your confirmatory PCR test won’t be sent to the lab. You have COVID-19 and should isolate at home.   
  • If your rapid antigen test result is negative, your PCR test will be sent to the lab to confirm your rapid result. You should isolate at home while you wait for your PCR test result.  

Yes, anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or is a close contact of someone who tested positive can get tested at a State-run site, regardless of their age. However, RIDOH recommends that infants 3 months and younger go to their pediatrician for COVID-19 testing. 

Some private clinics or pharmacies may have age restrictions on who they will test. For more information, contact the test site ahead of your appointment and ask if they will test young children. 

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.

Learn more about testing in Pre K-12 schools.  

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 State-run site. If you’re not up to date on your vaccinations and someone you live with tests positive, you need to stay home, too. You may end quarantine after 5 days but must continue to wear a mask for 5 additional days after quarantine. Test on day 5 if possible. Continue to monitor yourself for symptoms for an additional 7 days.  

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.

Testing yourself for COVID-19 at home

Online: All Rhode Islanders can order free COVID-19 self-test kits directly from the federal government. To learn more, visit covidtests.gov. 

Local distributions: Rhode Island has provided thousands of COVID-19 self-test kits to cities, towns, and community-based organizations. Your local municipality will share information about where and when distributions will take place.  

You can buy kits to test yourself for COVID-19 at some 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 COVIF-19 self-tests. Medicare enrollees can get free at-home tests from community health centers, Medicare-certified health clinics, or by requesting them through covidtests.gov. 

State Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) programs are required to cover at-home COVID 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 State-run test site, 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. You are not required to report self-test results to RIDOH.  

RIDOH will not perform a case investigation or contact tracing when a positive self-test result is reported. RIDOH cannot provide services, supports, or referrals for individuals who need assistance during isolation or quarantine based on a self-test result. 

  • RIDOH cannot provide a letter for missed work or school due to isolation based on a positive self-test result. If a letter is required, contact your healthcare provider. 

  • RIDOH cannot provide documentation of infection within the past 90 days based on a positive self-test result. If you think you may need to provide proof of your infection to an employer, school, or travel agency in the next 90 days, get another test at a testing site or by a healthcare provider.  

For information on what to do after getting a negative or positive result on a COVID-19 self-test, visit covid.ri.gov/testresults. 

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.  

Testing and the COVID-19 vaccine

No, you do not need to get tested for COVID-19 prior to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. If you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or have known current COVID-19 infection, you should not get vaccine until after you have completed your isolation or quarantine requirements. Learn more about testing and the COVID-19 vaccine.

Because there’s a small chance you may still get infected and spread the virus to others, continue to take part in required and optional testing at your workplace and elsewhere once you’ve gotten any COVID-19 vaccine. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, isolate at home and get tested. If you test positive for COVID-19, you must still isolate for 5 days after your symptoms start or after your test date if you have no symptoms.

No. None of the recently authorized and recommended vaccines nor the other COVID-19 vaccines currently in clinical trials in the US cause you to test positive on viral tests (for example a nasal swab), which are used to see if you have a current infection.

If your body develops an immune response, which is the goal of vaccination, there is a possibility you may test positive on some antibody tests. Antibody tests indicate you had a previous infection and that you may have some level of protection against the virus. Experts are currently looking at how COVID-19 vaccination may affect antibody testing results.

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. State-run test sites don’t offer COVID-19 testing for travelers.

For more information, visit covid.ri.gov/travel.