On March 8, 2020, the CDC Health Alert Network (HAN) distributed updated guidance to clinicians on evaluating and testing persons for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). This LOCS message is to inform clinical laboratories that could potentially be asked to perform testing about the recently updated guidance.
Criteria to Guide Evaluation and Laboratory Testing for COVID-19
Clinicians should work with their local and state health departments to coordinate testing through public health laboratories. In addition, COVID-19 diagnostic testing, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), is becoming available in clinical laboratories. This additional testing capacity will allow clinicians to consider COVID-19 testing for a wider group of symptomatic patients.
Clinicians should use their judgment to determine if a patient has signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 and whether the patient should be tested. Most patients with confirmed COVID-19 have developed fever and/or symptoms of acute respiratory illness (e.g., cough, difficulty breathing). Priorities for testing may include:
- Hospitalized patients who have signs and symptoms compatible with COVID-19 in order to inform decisions related to infection control.
- Other symptomatic individuals, such as older adults and individuals with chronic medical conditions and/or an immunocompromised state that may put them at higher risk for poor outcomes (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, receiving immunosuppressive medications, chronic lung disease, chronic kidney disease).
- Any person, including healthcare personnel, who within 14 days of symptom onset had close contact with a suspected or laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient, or who had a history of travel from affected geographic areas.
There are epidemiologic factors that may also help guide decisions about COVID-19 testing. Documented COVID-19 infections in a jurisdiction and known community transmission may contribute to an epidemiologic risk assessment to inform testing decisions. Clinicians are strongly encouraged to test for other causes of respiratory illness as well (e.g., influenza).
Mildly ill patients should be encouraged to stay home and contact their healthcare provider by phone for guidance about clinical management. Patients who have severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, should contact their healthcare provider and seek care immediately. Older patients and individuals who have underlying medical conditions or are immunocompromised should contact their physician early in the course of even mild illness.
Clinical laboratories should contact their state health departments for guidance if they have a suspected COVID-19 case specimen. Clinical laboratories should NOT attempt viral isolation from specimens collected from COVID-19 persons under investigation (PUIs). For interim guidelines for collecting, handling, and testing clinical specimens from PUIs for COVID-19, please see the CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) website.
- CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Laboratory Biosafety
- CDC Information for Laboratories: COVID-19
- CDC Coronavirus Disease 2019
- Register for CDC Health Alert Network (HAN) notifications, including updates about COVID-19. Enter your email address, search for HAN, and sign-up.
- Add CDC’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 Microsite to your website for real-time content updates.
If you have any questions, please contact us at LOCS@cdc.gov.
Laboratory Outreach Communication System | Division of Laboratory Systems (DLS)
Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services (CSELS)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)