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Where to turn if you need a coronavirus test

Hospitals & pharmacies all have different procedures, & all get results back in different time frames.

CLEVELAND — If you’re looking to get a COVID-19 test, one of the first things many people do is a simple internet search which comes up with multiple locations from hospitals to pharmacies. However, they all have different procedures and all get results back in different time frames.

So how do you know which is right for you?

"Testing is a very important weapon in our arsenal," Gov. Mike DeWine said back on June 11. "So, starting today, if you’d like a test, you can get one."

While it’s true that if you want a test you can get one, it’s not as simple as that.

Let’s start with symptoms: Hospitals have begun pulling back on who they test due to supply. The three main hospitals in our area—Cleveland Clinic, MetroHealth, and University Hospitals—all require appointments and symptomatic patients.

"Testing will always be limited,” Dr. Brian Rubin, Chairman of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, said. "We’re never going to be able to test every single patient here in Ohio on a daily basis. It’s just not possible."

There are outlying circumstances to testing asymptomatic patients at the hospitals, such as before procedures at the hospital. However, for the most part, they’re trying to save tests for those who have symptoms and are in higher-risk categories.

"We work the equation all the time," Rubin explained. "How much capacity do we have to test, and who needs to get tested? We’re always going to prioritize, I would say. There’s never going to be a point where every single person who wants to get a test is going to get them."

When it comes to pharmacies, places like CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid all offer testing for those that meet CDC criteria. While they don’t require a physician's referral and you don’t have to be symptomatic, you do need to complete an online assessment or form first and have an appointment.

"Accessibility becomes such a major issue here," Chris Altman, Clinical Manager for Rite Aid, said. "We’re watching both ends of it, making sure we balance being able to offer the test to the patients who need it or are requesting it but also making sure we don’t put a strain on the actual resources."

RELATED: Rite Aid to open 4 more coronavirus testing sites in Cleveland

RELATED: Walgreens to add up to 700 in-store clinics with primary care doctors

So while testing is available to many in Ohio, the criteria and how quickly you get results back varies by hospital and pharmacy. The hospitals are averaging anywhere from 10-72 hours for results, with limited rapid testing. The pharmacies, needing to send tests away, get results back anywhere from a few days to a little over a week, depending on how many people are tested and how backed up the lab is.

However, the speed of results is something that’s changing as well. DeWine spoke Tuesday about entering an interstate purchasing agreement to secure more rapid tests and help expedite results.

"We’ve joined Maryland, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia to ramp up the use of this type of test," the governor said during today's press conference.

So although the target is ever moving due to supply and demand, for now symptomatic people should start by contacting their primary care physician and their hospital. Asymptomatic people that fear they’ve been exposed and want to be tested should contact one of the pharmacies to see if they meet the CDC criteria.

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