Test & Trace – How It Works

See also:
Test & Trace User’s Guide
Stay At Home Advice For Those with Possible Infections
Stay At Home Guidance – Households with vulnerable residents


The NHS Test & Trace service – Introduction:

  • ensures that anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) can quickly be tested to find out if they have the virus, and also includes targeted asymptomatic testing of NHS and social care staff and care home residents
  • helps trace close recent contacts of anyone who tests positive for coronavirus and, if necessary, notifies them that they must self-isolate at home to help stop the spread of the virus

Test & Trace will help return life more to normal, in a way that is safe and protects our NHS and social care. The service will allow us to trace the spread of the virus and isolate new infections and play a vital role in giving us early warning if the virus is increasing again, locally or nationally.

How Test & Trace helps fight the virus

The NHS Test & Trace service will help to control the rate of reproduction (R), reduce the spread of the infection and save lives. By playing your part through the actions set out below, you will directly help to contain the virus by reducing its spread. This means that, thanks to your efforts, we will be able to go as far as it is safe to go in easing lockdown measures.

You can help in the following ways:

  • if you develop symptoms, you must continue to follow the rules to self-isolate with other members of your household and order a test to find out if you have coronavirus
  • if you test positive for coronavirus, you must share information promptly about your recent contacts through the NHS Test & Trace service to help us alert other people who may need to self-isolate
  • if you have had close recent contact with someone who has coronavirus, you must self-isolate if the NHS Test & Trace service advises you to do so

This specific guidance applies in England only. All 4 administrations are working closely together to have a consistent and joined-up approach to testing and tracing.

Definitions

‘Self-isolation if you have symptoms’ means you and all household members must remain at home. Do not go outside your home for any reason i.e. to work, school, or public areas, and do not use public transport or taxis. The guidance for households with possible coronavirus infection page has more information on self-isolation.

‘Contact’ means a person who has been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus and who may or may not live with them.

How NHS Test & Trace service works

Part 1: for someone with symptoms of coronavirus

  1. isolate: as soon as you experience coronavirus symptoms, medical advice is clear: you must self-isolate for at least 7 days. Anyone else in your household must self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms
  2. test: order a test immediately at www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access
  3. results: if your test is positive, you must complete the remainder of your 7-day self-isolation. Anyone in your household must also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms. If your test is negative, you and other household members no longer need to self-isolate
  4. share contacts: if you test positive for coronavirus, the NHS Test & Trace service will send you a text or email alert or call you with instructions of how to share details of people with whom you have had close, recent contact and places you have visited. It is important that you respond as soon as possible so that we can give appropriate advice to those who need it. You will be told to do this online via a secure website or you will be called by one of our contract tracers.

Part 2: if you are contacted by the NHS Test & Trace service because you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus

  1. alert: you will be alerted by the NHS Test & Trace service if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. The alert will usually come by text, email or phone call. You should then log on to the NHS Test & Trace website, which is normally the easiest way for you and the service to communicate with each other – but, if not, a trained call handler will talk you through what you must do. Under-18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue
  2. isolate: you will be told to begin self-isolation for 14 days from your last contact with the person who has tested positive. It’s really important to do this even if you don’t feel unwell because, if you have been infected, you could become infectious to others at any point up to 14 days. Your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you, if you do not have symptoms, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and handwashing and avoid contact with you at home
  3. test if needed: if you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household must self-isolate immediately at home for 14 days and you must book a test at the NHS web page or call 119 if you have no internet access. If your test is positive, you must continue to stay at home for at least 7 days and we will get in touch to ask about your contacts since they must self-isolate. If your test is negative, you must still complete your 14-day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet – this is crucial to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.

People who develop symptoms of coronavirus

When to self-isolate

The medical advice is clear: you must self-isolate if you have coronavirus symptoms or live in the same household as somebody who does. The main symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

For more information, read the further guidance on symptoms.

If you have one or more of these symptoms, you must self-isolate straight away for 7 days – or longer if you still have symptoms other than cough or loss of sense of smell/taste.

If you live in the same household as someone with coronavirus symptoms, you must self-isolate straight away for 14 days.

How to order a test

Please tell the Test & Trace service about your symptoms as soon as possible and get a test to find out if you have coronavirus. Please tell them about your symptoms as soon as possible. The sooner you have a test, the sooner we can let you know if you and other members of your household must remain in self-isolation.

Members of the public can order a test through the NHS website.

If you are an essential worker or an employer, please visit:

If you don’t have access to the internet, you can order a test by phoning 119.

Our guidance on testing has more information on our testing programme.

It has been made as easy as possible for everyone who has symptoms to access a test quickly, and there are now many potential ways to be tested:

  • drive-through regional testing sites
  • mobile testing units
  • test kits delivered to your home
  • hospital-based testing for NHS patients and staff
  • dedicated testing centres in other care settings (for example, care homes)

When you order a test, you will get information on the options available to you.

They currently aim to provide results within 48 hours of taking a test, but some results may take longer.

You will get your results by text, email or phone – and the message will advise you about what to do next.

If you test negative

If you get a negative test result, this means you are at low risk of having coronavirus.

Other members of your household can stop self-isolating. If you feel well and no longer have symptoms similar to coronavirus, you can stop self-isolating. You could still have another virus, such as a cold or flu – in which case it is still best to avoid contact with other people until you are better.

If you test positive

If you get a positive test result, this means that when you took the test, you had coronavirus. You – and other members of your household – must continue to self-isolate.

Health and care workers

If you work in a health or care setting, you should follow the separate guidance for health and care workers on testing and when to return to work.

Telling people about your test result

If you develop symptoms, you may wish to alert the people with whom you have had close contact over the last 48 hours. You should tell them that you might have coronavirus but are waiting for a test result.

At this stage (until the test result is known), those people do not need to self-isolate, but they should take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene, like washing their hands regularly. They should also watch out for their own symptoms.

You may want to write down your recent close contacts now so that you have them to hand if you test positive.

Sharing information about your recent contacts

If you get a positive test, we will contact you and ask you to share information about any close contacts you had just before or after you developed symptoms. This is vital to stop the spread of the virus.

Test & Trace will contact you by text message, email or phone. If you are under 18 years old, we will contact you by phone wherever possible and ask for your parent or guardian’s permission to continue the call.