Do I need to test and then re-test for COVID-19?


Whether you suspect you have COVID-19 but haven’t been tested, or you’ve tested positive – either way you need to self-isolate for 14 days. But do you need to be re-tested after this isolation period? Find out here.

Think you may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus and unsure whether you need to get tested? First of all, if you suspect in any way that you may have been exposed, you need to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days and monitor for symptoms.

If in doubt, self-isolate for 14 days

The ‘incubation period’ is the time between catching the virus and starting to show symptoms of the disease. The incubation period for COVID-19 disease is thought to be within one and 14 days, but most people develop symptoms four to five days after exposure.

Should I get tested if I then start feeling COVID-19 symptoms?

At this stage, you first need to be referred by a doctor and meet the testing criteria. Only if a healthcare provider has telephonically or physically assessed you and determined that you require testing will you be sent for a COVID-19 test. Check the clinical criteria for testing here and learn why tests are reserved for patients who meet these criteria.

What should I do if my COVID-19 test result is positive?

If you test positive for COVID-19, you should immediately start self-isolating - if you have not done so already at the onset of possible symptoms of COVID-19. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be able to safely self-isolate at home but if you present with severe disease, you may require hospitalisation.

If I test positive for COVID-19, should I go for a re-test?

No. In the initial stages of the COVID-19 protocol for testing, the recommendation was that two negative tests were required before clearing someone to end their self-isolation. Now, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases is not recommending individuals get a second test once they have tested positive for COVID-19. The reason for this is that the test used to determine the presence of COVID-19 is a PCR (Polymerase chain reaction) test and it does not indicate live, viable virus. It indicates the presence of viral genetic material. That means that individuals can test positive for weeks after symptom resolution even though they are not necessarily infectious. So, in summary you can be cleared to de-isolate 14 days after you first present with symptoms without having to repeat the test for COVID-19. Your doctor will guide you through the process of de-isolating, according to whether you had mild, asymptomatic or moderate-to-severe disease.

But what if I’m asymptomatic? Can I get tested to check?

If you suspect that you may have been exposed to COVID-19 and wish to be tested while not showing symptoms, you will not be able to access testing. You will need to self-quarantine for 14 days and monitor for symptoms. Should you develop symptoms during this period, please call your doctor who will be able to guide you through the testing process. Also, don’t be fooled – there is only one way to test for COVID-19.

Here’s a quick infographic to help you decide what to do

All medical information found on this website including content, graphics and images, is for educational and informational objectives only. Discovery Health publishes this content to help to protect and empower all South Africans by promoting a better understanding of COVID-19.

Find a healthcare professional near you

Find a doctor or hospital near you online or by using the Discovery app.

Related articles

Outbreak of the 2019 novel coronavirus

The 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has caused an outbreak of fatal respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China. This is a completely new strain with no vaccines available. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

Understand the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and prevent infection

No country is immune to the spread of the Novel Coronavirus - officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The outbreak has reached pandemic proportions and been declared a global public health emergency.

Novel Coronavirus - wash your hands of the threat

As toddlers, we learnt to wash our hands. But, did we ever master the skill to the extent that is needed to wash pathogens off our hands, and save lives? Multiple studies show people don't wash their hands at the right times, in the right way or for the right amount of time. We contaminate the things and people we touch with the germs we carry on our hands.

Log in

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id

Please click here to login into Discovery Digital Id