Suppose that I am a business (B1/B2) visitor who has just arrived in the US. After a long intercontinental flight, I would like to take an active COVID infection test before I meet partners. I wait 2-3 days for the incubation period, and then I look for a private or public laboratory to get a private test.

Question: Since I am a visitor, I have no doctor in the US, who could provide me a referral. All US laboratories that I have found require doctor's referrals. Are there any that don't? Especially in South California?

Thank you.

  • 2-3 days may not be log enough based on medical advice from some sources: "For example, it’s not a good idea to fly into Boston on a crowded flight, get a COVID-19 diagnostic test within a day or two of arrival, and then, based on a negative result, visit your elderly grandparents." See also this article. Sep 3 '20 at 17:07
  • You could try an urgent care center but I've anecdotally heard they can be very expensive for COVID-19 tests. County sites may be limited to residents.
    – mkennedy
    Sep 4 '20 at 15:21

You will, in general, not visit a laboratory directly, but rather a clinic or other testing site which will collect the sample and send it to the lab for you.

As for your specific questions, the answers will vary wildly by location and are constantly changing. In New York City, for instance, anyone who wants one can now get a covid-19 test for free and without an appointment, referral, or health insurance from the city-run clinics, but this is not the case in all jurisdictions. In California, you can look through the state's list of testing sites to see if any near you offer service without a medical referral. You may also want to check out the website of the specific city you're visiting to see if there is further information there.

Note that especially if you are a low-priority testee (i.e., you have no symptoms of illness, no close contacts who are known to have covid-19, and no other urgent medical need for fast results), the time between when you get the test and when it is delivered to you may be unpredictable, especially if you are in an area where the testing infrastructure is currently stressed. While it is often the case that results are delivered in 2–3 days, it would not be wise to make any plans that rely on you getting results in a specific timeframe.

  • 1
    Also closely read any local COVID regulations, as some areas require you to self-isolate while awaiting a test result. Sep 3 '20 at 13:25
  • Quest Diagnostics is doing some testing at Walmart's and CVS, see questdiagnostics.com/home/Covid-19/Patients/ActiveInfection You have to create an account. I 'qualified' because I have I'm high risk.
    – mkennedy
    Sep 4 '20 at 15:20
  • "In New York City, for instance, anyone who wants one can now get a covid-19 test for free" It says "all New Yorkers", not "anyone". The OP, a foreign visitor, is probably not considered a "New Yorker".
    – user102008
    Sep 5 '20 at 1:16
  • @user102008 There is no legal definition of "New Yorker" and they don't check to see if you are one (source: I have actually got a test from this program, not just tried to leap to conclusions by tightly parsing things on the Internet). If they meant "resident" or "citizen" or anything of the sort, they would say so.
    – mlc
    Sep 5 '20 at 2:26
  • Thanks for the hints. I am planning to be in Santa Barbara, CA. Both CVS and Walmart show no testing centres within 30 miles or so. There is a Quest lab in Goleta, but the website does not offer a testing site. There is a Santa Barbara VA centre, which requires a referral, as do the public and community health centres. So I see no solutions right now.
    – Z.A.
    Sep 7 '20 at 6:04

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