Testing timeline: When & how to test for COVID-19 before celebrating Christmas, New Year’s

MADISON, Wis.– When Wisconsin health officials issued a public health advisory Monday, they asked everyone to do three things to help reduce the strain on health care facilities:

  • Get vaccinated and boosted;
  • Wear a mask when indoors, especially around people who are not part of their household; and
  • Celebrate the holidays safely.

SSM Health President Dr. Mark Thompson clarified the third component hinges on testing.

When to test

Thompson recommends getting a COVID-19 test one or two days before traveling.

“Generally, I would say 24 to 48 hours, but even that’s not perfect,” Thompson explained. “We’ve seen this on cruises: people test negative and then four or five days later test positive. No test is perfect.”

When asked whether people should take multiple tests over the course of several days, Thompson said at this point no, that is not necessary.

Which test to choose

Lab-based tests are the most reliable, according to Thompson, who explained at-home tests are even less reliable for people not presently showing symptoms.

If a person does have a cough, fever, body aches, or chills, the at-home tests are more reliable, but at that point even if they test negative, they should probably stay home.

“I know how badly people want to gather, but we also need people to stay healthy,” Thompson said.

Click here for a map of Dane County COVID testing sites.