Asymptomatic Testing for COVID-19: What You Need to Know

Author

Dr. David Halle, Internal Medicine, South Shore Medical Center

David Halle, MD, Medical Director, Ambulatory Care

Massachusetts continues to see encouraging signs in its fight against COVID-19. The state has proceeded with caution through a phased reopening, with the second part of Phase 2 starting this past Monday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, testing has played a crucial role in slowing the spread of the virus.

Widespread testing gives the Department of Public Health a better idea of what percentage of the population contracted the virus, and can help separate infected individuals from healthy individuals, preventing further spread.

South Shore Health took a proactive role in testing community members for COVID-19 back in March, opening a drive-thru testing site at Union Point in Weymouth. In May, drive-thru testing moved to South Shore Medical Center Norwell. 

Thanks to the dedication of our colleagues, South Shore Health has processed thousands of COVID-19 tests over the past four months.

Due to limited testing supplies, appointments were initially limited to individuals experiencing COVID-19 symptoms at the time.

However, in recent weeks, we’ve expanded access to COVID-19 testing to include testing for asymptomatic community members.

How is South Shore Health using asymptomatic testing?

Currently, our focus is on providing asymptomatic testing to South Shore Health patients who have scheduled births or surgical procedures at either South Shore Hospital or one of our other surgical centers.

For example, OB/GYN patients who have scheduled labor inductions or cesarean sections report to our testing site a few days prior to their date. This allows the patient and her care team to have the results back prior to the procedure.

Knowing in advance whether or not a patient has COVID-19 plays a key role in allocating the appropriate staff resources and personal protective equipment for the procedure.

We take a similar approach for patients who have scheduled surgeries.

What is the role of asymptomatic COVID-19 testing?

Since the pandemic began, one of the more concerning aspects of COVID-19 has been its ability to infect a person without causing that individual to show symptoms.

Asymptomatic COVID-19 individuals may feel completely normal, but still have the ability to transmit the virus to others.

Because they’re not feeling sick, asymptomatic COVID-19 individuals may not know to take the appropriate precautions, such as staying at home and limiting interactions with others.

This, in turn, can lead to further spread.

What about “return to work” testing for COVID-19?

As I mentioned above, Massachusetts continues to reopen, and many businesses, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors, are starting to bring their employees back to work.

Some employers require that their employees provide documentation of a recent negative COVID-19 test result prior to returning. 

This is generally what people are describing when talking about “return to work” testing.

As these tests play an important role in getting members of our community back to work, we’ve adjusted our testing guidelines at the drive-thru site and now offer return to work testing for those who require it.

Additionally, with day care services resuming in the state, some day care centers are requiring tests for both employees and for children who will be using these services; we’re able to provide testing in both of those circumstances as well. 

These guidelines are subject to change based on available resources, as our priority remains testing symptomatic individuals and South Shore Health patients who are preparing for births or operations. 

Can anyone obtain a COVID-19 test without symptoms?

Generally, we discourage people who do not have symptoms from scheduling a COVID-19 test, as it’s important to ensure that resources remain available for our pre-operative patients or return to work cases.

However, there are circumstances where we can provide COVID-19 testing to asymptomatic individuals who believe they have been exposed.

For example, if you recently spent Father’s Day weekend with your family and find out that one of your relatives tested positive, it’s a good idea to get tested.

Additionally, if you recently spent time in a crowd of strangers, like at one of the protests or rallies in the area, we can provide you with a COVID-19 test.

 

David Halle, MD, is Medical Director of the Ambulatory Division at South Shore Health. Learn more about how to get a COVID-19 test.