COVID-19 Testing

COVID-19 Testing at MarinHealth

Many people have questions about testing related to COVID-19, and widespread misinformation creates a lot of confusion. You can count on MarinHealth for clear, reliable information and for tests of the highest available quality. Our testing guidelines have been developed according to the recommendations of the CDC and in collaboration with our colleagues at UCSF Health. We continue to evolve them as the situation changes and new information comes to light.

Where are tests available?

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, call to speak to someone here at MarinHealth who can assess your situation: 1-415-925-8865. Depending on your symptoms, we will direct you to continue monitoring at home, get a test at our drive through site, or schedule an appointment via telehealth with a provider.

Of course, if you are having severe or life-threatening symptoms, call 911.

Who can get tested at MarinHealth?

If you are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, please call our Urgent Care Clinic to schedule an appointment: 1-415-925-8865.

We do not offer routine COVID-19 testing in our Emergency department. Patients who are in need of emergency care for respiratory or other conditions will be evaluated and if needed, will be tested for COVID-19.

Testing is done routinely on patients scheduled for procedures or surgery at a MarinHealth facility, as part of pre-admission preparation. And all patients who are hospitalized at MarinHealth Medical Center are tested, even if they do not display COVID-19 symptoms. To learn more about testing in Marin we encourage you to read the COVID-19 Testing Information on the Marin County Public Health website.

Criteria for COVID-19 Testing

We provide testing for those who show with a combination of new, acute symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Respiratory symptoms (breathing difficulties or cough)
  • URI symptoms (headache, congestion, sore throat)
  • GI symptoms (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting)
  • ENT symptoms (loss of taste or smell)
  • Eye symptoms (conjunctivitis)
  • Other clinical concern for COVID-19 (including other conditions that can worsen the virus)

What diagnostic tests are currently used at MarinHealth for COVID-19?

RAPID POINT OF CARE (POC) TEST: At our Urgent Care Clinic we use a rapid Point of Care (POC) test, Abbott ID NOW™ COVID-19. This nasal swab test delivers quick results — in less than 30 min — and is valuable to confirm what is strongly suspected in patients who present with symptoms of the disease.

A positive result will enable caregivers to give proper instructions to patients for how to get care at home, isolate, and inform others who may be infected. However, because it’s not quite as reliable as our hospital-based testing platform (RT-PCR Test, see below), a negative result may be falsely negative.

Essentially, if a test is positive, we can safely assume the disease is present. If a patient clearly has symptoms and receives a negative POC result, they may be referred for the more sensitive test, as the rapid test may be falsely negative.

REVERSE TRANSCRIPTION POLYMERASE CHAIN REACTION (RT-PCR) TEST: At MarinHealth Medical Center, we use the Cepheid GeneXpert® test, considered to be one of the “Gold Standard” COVID-19 tests. It uses reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to detect RNA specific to COVID-19. A nasal/pharyngeal swab sample is used to detect the presence of viral RNA, which shows “viral shedding.”

PCR tests can tell whether someone is currently infected with the novel coronavirus. Some results are processed at the Medical Center and others are sent to UCSF Health based on the severity of a patient’s condition. We can process in-house tests in a few hours, and those that go to UCSF Health could take up to 72 hours.

What is viral shedding?

Viral shedding occurs when a virus is detected in body fluids such as nasal secretions and saliva. Evidence suggests that the novel coronavirus is most contagious right before the onset of symptoms and viral shedding is high. One reason that COVID-19 is the cause of a pandemic is that shedding is occurring even earlier in the infection.

How is testing useful?

Tests also help provide a picture of the spread of a disease like COVID-19 within a population. For individuals who do not need hospital care, a positive test enables them to self-quarantine and contact people who may also have been exposed, so they can also quarantine and break the chain of transmission. For patients who are sick enough for hospitalization or other treatment, it enables us to use proper infection control to keep caregivers and other patients safe.

Can I get tested to see if I had COVID-19 before, even if I’m not sick now?

Many times, people who have already recovered from an illness like COVID-19 will have developed antibodies as part of their immune response. Tests that detect immune response (antibodies) to infection are called Serology Tests. Antibodies can appear about one week after infection and typically peak four to six weeks after symptoms begin. Most people will develop antibodies within two to three weeks after infection. Some patients, particularly those with immunocompromising conditions, may not produce a detectible antibody response.

How accurate are antibody tests?

Unfortunately, there are lots of variations in the quality and reliability of the tests available. In the meantime, testing of asymptomatic individuals with low suspicion for prior infection should be approached with caution until we understand more about the potential for false positive and false negative results. We are optimistic that as time goes by, antibody tests will be more reliable and useful. Given these challenges, MarinHealth is currently not offering antibody testing. Our team of experts will continue to evaluate the use and reliability of these tests so that we can best serve our community.

If a person has antibodies to COVID-19, does that mean they are immune to getting it again?

We currently don’t know whether antibodies to COVID-19 offer complete, prolonged immunity against future infections. Several other coronaviruses have limited or short-term immunity after an infection, but it is too early in this epidemic to understand whether or how antibodies will protect people who have had COVID-19.