One of the most important tools in the fight against the novel coronavirus is testing. That is why since the beginning of this pandemic, Germany has quickly set up and expanded its testing capacities.
Who is being tested?
When testing, a targeted approach is important. Testing without good cause leads to a false sense of security. This is because even a negative coronavirus test result only yields a momentary snapshot and does not relieve individuals of the need to take hygiene and protective measures (keyword DHM+A (Distance, Hygiene, Masks + Airing). Testing without justified suspicion also increases the risk of false positives and places a burden on the available testing capacities. We therefore wish to test more, but also with more precision. Germany has therefore put a National Test Strategy in place that specifies who gets tested, how and when.
The National Test Strategy
In Germany, the following groups of people are tested with a PCR test:
- Symptomatic people, if the testing criteria laid down by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) are met (More information available in German)
- For asymptomatic people who have been in close contact with someone infected with coronavirus, the doctor caring for the infected person or the public health office can decide on a case-by case basis whether a test is required (e.g. if testing would provide an added value over the quarantine ordered regardless).
- People in community facilities and communal accommodation (e.g. schools, day care facilities, refugee accommodation, emergency shelters, correctional facilities), if in their facility someone was found to have been infected with coronavirus.
- Patients, residents and staff at long-term care facilities or hospitals, if in their facility someone was found to have been infected with coronavirus. This, for instance, also applies to facilities for people with disabilities, for rehabilitation, for outpatient surgery or outpatient dialysis, home care services, outpatient hospice services, outpatient palliative care services as well as medical and dental practices and practices of other health professionals.
- Patients or care recipients before admission or readmission: particularly in medical inpatient or outpatient facilities (excluding medical and dental practices and practices of other health professionals). This includes, for instance, (semi-)residential facilities providing care and accommodation to older people, people with disabilities or long-term care needs, and home care services, integration assistance services, outpatient hospice services, outpatient palliative care services and day hospitals.
The following groups of people can be tested in Germany with an antigen test:
- Patients, care recipients, people with long-term care needs, residents, particularly at medical inpatient or outpatient facilities (excluding medical and dental practices and practices of other health professionals), at (semi-)residential facilities providing care and accommodation to older people, people with disabilities or long-term care needs, of home care services and integration assistance services, of outpatient hospice services, of outpatient palliative care services or at day hospitals; without there having been a COVID-19 case, in accordance with the facility’s testing strategy.
- Staff at specific facilities (including staff at medical inpatient or outpatient facilities such as hospitals, dialysis facilities, outpatient surgery facilities, medical and dental practices, practices of other health professionals, rescue service personnel, day hospital staff, staff at (semi-)residential facilities providing care and accommodation to older people, people with disabilities or long-term care needs, as well as staff at integration assistance services, home care services, outpatient hospice services, outpatient palliative care services) can be tested preventively with an antigen test without there having been a confirmed case of infection, in accordance with the facility or company’s testing strategy.
- Visitors, especially to medical inpatient and outpatient facilities (excluding medical and dental practices or practices of other health professionals) as well as to (semi-)residential facilities providing care or accommodation to older people, people with disabilities or long-term care needs and to day hospitals directly prior to entering the facility.
How to proceed in case of suspected infection
Please get yourself tested – early medical care is associated with a more favourable course of the disease. In addition, you can thereby contribute toward stemming the spread of the virus. Should you suspect you may be infected with the novel coronavirus, do not make your way directly to a doctor’s surgery without first announcing your visit. You could infect additional people. First discuss with your family doctor by telephone how best to proceed. Outside of normal surgery hours, you can also call the on-duty medical service by dialling the number 116 117 from anywhere within Germany. In case of an emergency, such as with acute breathing difficulties, call 112. Here you will find information on symptoms and how best to handle them.
Who decides whether I will be tested for coronavirus?
Your family doctor or the on-duty medical service will inform you whether a test is required and where to get this test. Potentially, it may be possible to arrange a mobile test that can even be carried out at your own home. Should you have had contact with someone who has tested positive, even if you do not exhibit symptoms please contact your local public health office, which will then conduct a personal interview to determine the next steps.
Procedure to test for SARS-CoV-2
First a sample needs to be taken from those concerned. The viruses multiply in the mucous membranes of the nose or throat. That is why a swab is taken from the posterior pharyngeal wall. In severe cases, secretion from the lower respiratory tract may also be taken.
Two different testing procedures for SARS-CoV-2 are currently available: the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and the antigen test.