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COVID-19 Testing

THE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING of our community is our top priority. Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) is working closely with community partners to prevent and respond to the evolving novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Testing Icon -- Testing helps stop the spreadOn this page

NYS Documentation of Isolation Orders (fill-in PDF form)

When to get tested

You have symptoms:

If you, or someone you're with develops any of the symptoms common for COVID-19, you should get tested for the virus that causes COVID-19 regardless of your vaccination status. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Congestion or runny nose or sore throat
  • Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

Other reasons to get tested:

  • Close contact exposure: If in the last 2 weeks, you have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for, or recently had COVID-19. Get tested even if you are fully vaccinated. Learn about contact tracing and guidance for close contacts
  • Upcoming medical procedure: Follow your provider's instructions for when to schedule your test prior to having your procedure..
  • Surveillance testing: Surveillance testing of all Tompkins County residents is available, and costs are covered without the requirement of being medically necessary. This service is provided in partnership with Tompkins County.
  • Employee testing: Your employer, school, or other organization has a testing program contract with Cayuga Health. 

To learn more about testing for COVID-19

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Cayuga Health Sampling Site 

  • Appointment Required: Register at or call 607-319-5708. Appointments can only be booked up to 1 week (7 days) in advance.
  • Cost: No cost for Tompkins County residents. Non-residents may be responsible for a $99 fee.                          

Northeast: Shops at Ithaca Mall

  • Location: 40 Catherwood Rd., Ithaca. The site is set up in the back parking lot (cinema side). (Open Google map)
  • Hours:
    • Sunday, 10:00 am–2:00 pm 
    • Monday–Thursday, 8:00 am–6:00 pm
    • Friday, 8:00 am–2:00 pm
    • Saturday, Closed.
  • Access: This is a drive-through site. Individuals remain in their vehicle throughout check-in and sampling.
  • Sampling method: Supervised self-collection of anterior nares (front of the nostril) samples. Anterior nares sampling involves a noninvasive nasal swab. Unlike saliva, there is no requirement to abstain from eating, drinking or smoking..
  • Test type: Polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The test detects genetic material from the virus. (Source)

Appointment Required!

An appointment is required to get tested at the Cayuga Health Sampling Sites. Register online here, or call 607-319-5708. Appointments can only be booked up to 1 week (7 days) in advance.

(Information reviewed 01/09/2023.)

What should I expect?

  • This is a drive-through sampling site:
    • Remain in your car, and wait to be directed by Sampling Center staff. You may tune your radio to 100.9 FM for information and instructions.
    • Staff will use a tablet to pull up your registration, and review the information you provided when you registered. Please have your I.D. and insurance information ready to show.
    • You will be directed to the sample pick-up lanes.
    • You will be given instructions about the next steps you should take.

What happens while I wait for results?

  • If you got tested because you are experiencing any symptoms (you are symptomatic)
    • You must return home without any stops. You must stay separated from all others in your household, including children. Read more about mandatory isolation here.
    • You will get a check-in call to see if you have any questions and be sure you are following isolation procedure.
    • You must remain in isolation until you receive your test results. Results have typically been available within 24 hours. Ask the medical staff at the sampling site.
    • Only in the case of an emergency, call 911
  • If you got tested on recommendation by a contact tracer  (close contact with a known case of COVID-19), or a Health Alert (present during a potential public exposure)
    • You should self-quarantine for 14 days from the date of the exposure, and monitor your symptoms.
    • If you are fully vaccinated you do not need to quarantine. Monitor for possible COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days. If you develop any symptoms, get tested again.
  • If you got tested at the request of your employer, as an essential worker, or by personal choice, and you are asymptomatic
    • You do not need to go into quarantine or isolation
    • Continue to practice all prevention measures, including wearing a face covering when in a public place, maintain 6 feet distance from others, avoid crowds and tight areas.

How will I get my result?

  • Your result will be available on the Cayuga Health Patient Portal within the timeframe you are given at the testing site. 
  • If the test result is positive (virus detected) you will be called by a case investigator from the Tompkins County Health Department. They will provide instructions and will conduct a thorough contact investigation.
  • You may be released from isolation following a negative test result and once you do not have symptoms for at least 24 hours.

How do I register?

Complete information at

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Self- or At-Home Testing Kits

Self-tests are one of the many prevention tools we can use to stop of the spread of COVID-19, along with vaccination, masking, and physical distancing. They can give you information about the risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Self-tests can be purchased online or in pharmacies and retail stores, and may be available through schools and other organizations at no cost.

Self-tests or at-home test kits are able to detect current infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. They are available over the counter at many pharmacies and online -- no prescription needed. Self-test kits are also available for free at various locations in Tompkins County, including local libraries and municipal centers. Click here for a list of distribution outlets.

When you use a self-test follow the product instructions exactly to minimize false or invalid results. 

Self-tests may also be referred to as Antigen tests. They are a qualitative detection of the nucleocapsid protein antigen from SARS-CoV-2. Typically a nasal swab is used to collect the sample.

If you have symptoms, were in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, or at a gathering with others who later tested positive, you should get tested regardless of your vaccination status.

Download a self-test check list (PDF)

Who should use self-test kits?

  • Self-tests are recommended for individuals who do not have symptoms, and are seeking quick results to identify infection or increase confidence that you are not positive for COVID-19.
  • A self-test can be used as a prevention measure before gathering indoors with others who are not in your household. This is especially important before gathering with individuals who are unvaccinated, older individuals, those who are immunocompromised, or individuals at greater risk of severe disease.
  • If you are symptomatic or a close contact, TCHD recommends a PCR test through the Cayuga Health community sampling site at the Shops at Ithaca Mall. While self-tests may be used if you have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed or potentially exposed to an individual with COVID-19, they are not as conclusive as the PCR test. Contact your healthcare practitioner to further discuss symptoms or if you are seeking medical care.

How to use the self-test

  • Prepare to take the test by reading the manufacturer’s instructions exactly to minimize false or invalid results. Wash hands with soap and water and thoroughly clean surfaces where you’ll take the test. Be sure to know what the results will look like on your brand of test.  
  • Collect your sample by following the instructions exactly. Most self-tests take nasal samples, which require you swab the inside of your nose for fifteen seconds. 
  • Once collected, use the sample as described in the instructions to complete the self-test.

If your self-test result is positive

  • You should immediately isolate for 5 days from the positive test result or the onset of symptoms, whichever occurs first.Continue to wear a well-fitting mask around others for an additional 5 days following isolation. 
  • A follow-up PCR test is not necessary. Once you receive a positive test result, regardless of the type of test, you are considered a positive case and should isolate from others.

Notify close contacts

  • Anyone in your household (who you live with) is at increased risk of infection, especially with the more transmissible Omicron variant. Everyone in the household should monitor themselves closely for symptoms, especially if they are unvaccinated, immuno-compromised, or have other underlying health conditions. They may contact their healthcare practitioner about any concerns and additional treatment.
  • Please inform close contacts that they may have been exposed. A close contact is defined as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period during the infectious period.
    • The infectious period goes from 2 days before you first had symptoms (if you have symptoms).
    • If you do not have symptoms (are asymptomatic), the infectious period starts 2 days prior to test specimen collection.
  • Close contacts should monitor themselves closely for symptoms and seek a PCR test if symptoms develop.
  • If you are experiencing any of the emergency warning signs of trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, bluish lips or face, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Commercially available over-the-counter (OTC) test kits.

  • A list of all OTC products with an FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) is here.
  • Test kits generally include two tests. Repeating the test within a few days, with at least 24 hours between tests, will increase the confidence of your result.
  • Test kit expiration dates have been extended from a 9-month expiration date to a 12-month expiration date. Before you discard a past-date kit, please check online for the new extended expiration date.
  • A negative result indicates that you may not be infected and may be at low risk of spreading disease to others, though it does not rule out an infection. Repeating the test will increase the confidence that you are not infected.
  • Free test kits can be found locally in various locations.

Documentation of isolation orders
for third parties, including work or school

Case investigations have ceased for most positive cases age 18-64 years old, and individuals do not get a phone call and isolation order from a case investigator. Instead, follow-up for a positive lab-certified PCR test is by email or SMS text message. The document listed below is valid proof to present to your employer or school that you or your dependent have been ordered into isolation (you tested positive).

NYSDOH documentation following a positive lab-certified test

  • NYSDOH self-Affirmation of Isolation form
  • If you develop symptoms or symptoms worsen, contact your healthcare practitioner and seek additional care.

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Travel Requirements

  • CDC FAQ about the requirement for proof of negative COVID-19 test or recovery from COVID-19 for all air passengers arriving in the United States.
  • Major airlines (American, Delta, United) have partnered with eMed to provide tests required for international travel. The service includes a test for both outbound and return trips. Negative test results provided through a smartphone app are accepted by the airline for boarding.

Learn more about self-tests

Self-test Checklist

Image of self testing guidance document

Download a letter-size PDF of this check list.
Download a 3-up sheet of this check list (3 rack card size (3.67"x8.5") on one 8.5x11 page). 

Download a template for Avery® 5963 labels, 2"x4", 10 per sheet (order labels from Avery® here).
image of label template

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