COVID-19 Testing Guide for Holiday Travel

By Pat Carragher - December 16, 2020

There’s no place like home for the holidays and that’s exactly where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants you to celebrate; in your own home.

As cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 continue to increase across the United States, the CDC says the safest way to celebrate the winter holidays is at home with the people you live with.

If you do decide to travel, testing can help you do it a bit more safely, though it doesn’t completely eliminate all risk.

Before getting tested you should check state and local requirements.

You can find your nearest public COVID-19 testing site through the Florida Division of Emergency Management or through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

When should you get tested?

The CDC recommends getting tested with a viral test 1 to 3 days before your trip and again 3 to 5 days after you return if you’ve been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 symptoms.  You should also keep a copy of your test results while you travel in case you’re asked for them.

Dr. John Greene

“Some people who visit elderly relatives may get tested if they can find a place to do so to feel better that they are negative,” said Dr. John Greene, chair of the Infectious Diseases Department at Moffitt Cancer Center.  “But, of course, they may be in the incubation period. If they get tested it should be right before leaving.”

Make sure to consider the turnaround time for results when you get your test. PCR test results can take up to 3 to 5 days. You may also need to book an appointment a few days in advance as testing sites are quickly reaching capacity. Rapid test results are usually available in less than an hour. Depending on the situation, it may be recommended that you confirm the result of a rapid test by following up with a PCR test.

You should not travel if you test positive.

How much does it cost to get tested?

There is no charge for testing at any public COVID-19 testing sites in Florida.

According to the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), all insurance companies must pay for COVID-19 testing with no copay or deductible for tests that are medically necessary. People who do not have insurance will still be tested for free.

The costs may vary if you want to get tested by a private healthcare provider or pharmacy. Prices typically range from $100 to $150.  You may not have to pay out-of-pocket if you are using insurance or if you are eligible for no-cost testing according to federal or state guidelines.

If you are not showing symptoms and just want to get a precautionary test, you may not be covered. Be sure to contact your insurance provider to confirm your benefits before scheduling a test. HSA and FSA cards are generally accepted as payment along with credit and debit cards.

Be prepared for extended wait times when calling your insurance provider and when calling to schedule a test.

If you plan to go to a public testing site, you should arrive as early as possible and be prepared for long wait times. You should also fill your gas tank and pack snacks and water in preparation of extended time inside a running car.

Should you quarantine upon return?

The CDC recently revised guidelines for COVID-19 quarantine following exposure and decreased the amount of time you need to stay at home.

According to the CDC, you should follow quarantine if:

  • You were within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for 15 minutes or more
  • You provided care at home to someone who is sick with COVID-19
  • You had direct physical contact with the person (hugged or kissed them)
  • You shared eating or drinking utensils
  • They sneezed, coughed or somehow got respiratory droplets on you 

The CDC explained that under the new guidelines, a quarantine can end:

  • after 10 days without a test if the person has reported no symptoms
  • after seven days with a negative test result if the person has reported no symptoms

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