COVID-19 testing for app users: your questions answered

May 1, 2020

We are pleased to announce that thousands of regular UK-based users of the COVID Symptom Tracker app showing early signs of coronavirus infection will be offered rapid testing through the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC)

This is part of our ongoing research project to understand more about the symptoms of coronavirus infection and how it affects different people.

We will be offering PCR swab testing for active coronavirus infection to a random sample of users on the first day that they log any new symptoms, having previously reported that they are feeling well. If you’ve been selected for testing you’ll receive an email with further information.

The tests can be carried out with a self-administered home testing kit (depending on availability) or at one of the DHSC regional testing facilities. Testing is currently available for app users in England and Northern Ireland, and we’re hoping to expand this to Wales and Scotland as soon as possible.  

Results are expected to be returned via text message within 48 hours, whether they are negative, positive or inconclusive. Your individual results are confidential and will not be automatically shared with the COVID Symptom Tracker research team, so we ask you please to report the results back within the app when prompted.

More than 3 million people across the UK have downloaded the app since late March, generating valuable data about the likely spread of COVID-19 across the country. We’ve been using the data to develop a computer model that can predict whether someone is likely to have the disease based on characteristic clusters of symptoms, even in the absence of a formal test

We’re aiming to offer testing to up to 10,000 app users every week, and will be using the data to validate the reliability of our model for predicting COVID-19 based solely on a combination of symptoms.

The findings from the study may reduce the need to test so many people, easing pressure on testing services, and will also help to identify those who are likely to be infected as soon as the earliest symptoms start to appear. This will be an important step for controlling the spreading and re-emergence of the disease in the future as lockdown measures start to relax.

Here are some answers to questions you might have about this testing study:

I’m already ill and I think it might be COVID-19 - can you send me a test?

We are offering tests to app users who have previously reported as feeling healthy over several days and then log new symptoms, rather than users who are already reporting feeling unwell, as we are trying to understand how quickly we can predict the onset of the disease. 

If you think you might have COVID-19, you are eligible for DHSC testing if you fall into one of the following groups:

  • all essential workers including NHS and social care workers with symptoms 
  • anyone over 65 with symptoms
  • anyone with symptoms whose work cannot be done from home (for example, construction workers, shop workers, emergency plumbers and delivery drivers)
  • anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus and lives with any of those identified above

Take a look at the Government website for more information on eligibility and access to testing.

What if I report new symptoms and get tested but don’t actually have coronavirus?

That’s fine, don’t worry about it! We need to find out whether there’s a difference between the symptoms that are characteristic of early COVID-19 and signs of other common diseases such as colds or allergies, so we need to test anyone who starts to show signs of illness, regardless of whether they turn out to have coronavirus.. 

Can I get a COVID-19 test for other people in my family?

No, sorry. If you’re invited to take a test, it’s because you’ve been selected to take part in our study. 

Do I have to take a test if I don’t want to?

No - taking part in the testing study is entirely optional.

Do I have to tell anyone my results?

No, but we don’t have any other way of finding out whether you have received a positive or negative result so we ask that you report your status in the app. You do not have to tell anyone else your result, and any data you submit into the app is entirely confidential. Read more about our data protection policies here.

What if I test positive for coronavirus?

If you experience symptoms and test positive for coronavirus, you should follow the Government guidance for self-isolation. Please keep checking in on the app daily to track your symptoms as the disease progresses, and seek medical help if you start to feel seriously unwell.

What if I test negative for coronavirus?

If you have a negative test results, please keep on checking in on the app daily to report your health status. It’s important to remember that a negative test doesn’t necessarily guarantee you don’t have coronavirus, as it could be a false negative result, so you should still take steps to self-isolate until you’re feeling better. There are also many other reasons that you might be ill other than COVID-19, so we urge you to contact the NHS for medical advice if you are feeling seriously unwell.

Can I get a test through the COVID Symptom Tracker app to find out if I’ve already had COVID-19?

At the moment we are only testing people for current coronavirus infection. We’re investigating options for offering blood tests that might tell whether someone has previously been exposed to the virus, so watch this space. 

If you haven’t yet downloaded the app and started tracking your daily health, you can find it at the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. You can also set up accounts for family members or others who wish to take part in the study but aren’t able to access the app themselves

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