Voluntary COVID-19 Test For Travelers Traveling Outside The US
My parents are traveling back home to India and one of the requirements for exempting them from institutional quarantine is to submit an RT-PCR negative report upon arrival in India. There are two types of COVID tests- the RT-PCR test is a lab test where results typically take 2-3 days while the Rapid test has the same-day result. The COVID test can also be taken at the airport upon arrival in India. However, you will have to make an appointment and wait for at least 8-10 hours at the airport until your test results arrive. That makes me think that they will probably be doing a Rapid Test since you have already arrived in India as opposed to their requirement of RT-PCR test before boarding the flight. To avoid the long wait time for the test result, we decided to get it done from here so that they had head back straight home after the long 24 hours journey.
I live in Maryland and there are a lot of sites where one can get a COVID test done. Link here: https://coronavirus.baltimorecity.gov/where-get-tested-covid-19-baltimore-city
However, most of these sites require a referral from your PCP or the patient must have one or more COVID symptoms, or you are not allowed to pay out of pocket- it has to be through your insurance company or the site does not do an RT-PCR test.
CVS (Minute Clinic) is the only place that has self-administered RT-PCR Covid tests specifically for travelers $139* (out of pocket) across 31 states. There's no medical referral needed and you pay at the time of service. Link here: https://www.cvs.com/minuteclinic/covid-19-testing/voluntary-testing
How many days in advance do you need to take the test?
Requirements vary depending upon your travel destination. Getting tested too early or too late, or getting the wrong type of test, may result in needing to self-quarantine at your destination. For instance, for international passengers traveling to India, the COVID taken within 96 hours of departure from the port of origin is valid on arrival in India. The boarding time for my parents is Saturday 1900 hrs, so they took the COVID test on Wednesday 1000 hrs. We would have ideally preferred the test on Tuesday after 1900 hrs, however, CVS do not have any appointment after 1500 hrs.
Do you need to make an appointment?
Yes, an appointment is mandatory but gets filled up quickly. It is advisable to schedule appointments up to two days in advance.
How is the sample collected at CVS?
The test is self-administered. Upon arrival, you follow instructions posted at the site. We were asked to go to the drive-thru window and wait for the attendant. Do not step out of your car or lower your car window or enter CVS. You need to wear a mask until asked to remove it. The attendant will verify the patient's name, age and appointment confirmation number. He/she will hand you the test kit and give you instructions over the speaker phone while you do the test yourself. The process was very straightforward. You insert the swab in your nose until resistance is met, rotate it three times and then hold it for 15 secs. Repeat the same on the other nostril. Once done, you put the swab in the specimen tube provided in the kit and then drop it in the collection box. There is no human contact anywhere during the process.
When will you get the test result?
The average turnaround time for receiving results from lab tests is 2-3 days.
Where can you see the test result?
After your test, you will be emailed a link to activate your MyChart account. The link is valid for 24 hours. When your results are ready, you'll be notified by email to check them in MyChart. You may also receive a text message with a secure link to view results.
*Insurance is typically not accepted for voluntary testing purposes. Major debit/credit, HSA and FSA cards are accepted.
Updated on 12/08/2020: We never received the test results from CVS. I got a call from CVS on 11/18/2020 asking for a re-test since the specimen/samples got contaminated. I told the CVS representative that my parents have already gone back to India and they cannot appear for a retest so if they could arrange for a refund. She gave me their customer service number and asked me to explain the situation. So, I called them up and after a long hold of 30 mins, I was finally able to talk to someone. I told her that my parents have gone back to India, the rest results were supposed to come within 2-3 days and worse to worse within 6-10 days as they claim on their website and the test was supposed to be for travel as advertised in their website. The entire purpose of the test was not made since the reports did not come on time hence a refund makes sense. She assured me that someone from the billing department will be calling me in 2-3 business day to verify the information. However, it has been a month and i havemtn heard back from anyone. Thankfully, this mishap did not affect my parents interns of getting quarantined at a hotel in Mumbai but it did cost them $280 for a test whose reports never arrived.