Receiving a positive COVID-19 test result

A step-by-step guide from getting tested to receiving your test results.

Last updated: 25 August 2020

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Steps involved with getting tested  

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should phone Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or your GP to see if you should be tested.

If you are advised to have a test, you will go to your local General Practice (GP) or community-based assessment centre (CBAC) and the staff there will talk to you about your symptoms and if appropriate take a test. Read more about getting tested.  

Testing staff will swab you and confirm whether you need to self-isolate while you wait for your test result or not. You should follow their advice about what to do next, and you should always stay home if you are feeling unwell.

Testing staff will send your swab to a lab.

Lab teams receive your swab, process it, and confirm the test result. Positive test results, or tests for people deemed higher risk, are prioritised and confirmed with patients typically within 24 to 48 hours. Negative test results can take slightly longer.

There are two ways you will get your COVID-19 test result back:

  • Negative result: The GP or CBAC staffer who took your original test will call or send you a text message confirming a negative result. For most people, a negative result means you should stay home until you feel completely well again for at least 24 hours, so you don’t pass on the illness you have to others. Talk with your General Practitioner or primary care provider about when you are able to return to work.
  • Positive result: The GP or CBAC staffer who took your original test will call to discuss your result and next steps, and you can also expect to hear from someone at your local public health unit (e.g. DHB).

Sometimes the public health team will call you before you have heard from your GP or the CBAC clinic. Please answer your phone if you can. If you miss the original phone call/s, you may receive a text message asking you to contact the local public health team to discuss your results.

How long it takes to receive a test result

You should allow up to four days from when you are swabbed to when you can expect to receive your result. During particularly busy times, this process could take up to five days. If you have not received your result after five days, please contact your GP or the place your test was done.


Testing positive

If you test positive for COVID-19, there are several steps you will need to take and instructions you will need to follow. A staff member from your local public health unit will talk you through each of these steps:

Case interview

The first thing that needs to happen is what we call a “case interview”. This is a phone call that can take up to an hour and can be broken up into shorter phone conversations if you’re feeling unwell.  A telephone interpreter in your preferred language can be arranged for this phone call.

What’s covered in the case interview:

  • A staff member from the local public health unit will ask you for full details of everywhere you have been recently.  They will ask you to check your diary, family calendar, your bank statements, your NZ COVID Tracer app and may ask you to verify details with your family, whānau and friends  
  • This conversation has two purposes: to try and identify who or where you got the infection from, and to identify anyone you have had contact with and may have passed the infection to, so we can contact those people and stop COVID-19 spreading further
  • The faster we can trace your close and casual contacts, the faster we can prevent COVID-19 spreading.

Relocating to a quarantine facility

After your case interview, you will be asked to move into one of our quarantine facilities as quickly as possible, unless suitable other arrangements are approved by the Medical Officer of Health.

This is to ensure your health and welfare needs are met and stops you posing an ongoing risk of infection to your whānau and community. Quarantine facility staff will closely monitor your physical and mental health during your stay. These staff are well-trained on cleaning and hygiene procedures to keep the disease isolated and have protective equipment to do this safely.

Differences between a quarantine facility and a managed isolation facility

Quarantine facilities are in a different location or area to managed isolation facilities. At a quarantine facility, a higher level of care is provided, with increased health and safety and cleaning measures and additional restrictions on people’s movements.

Family and household arrangements:

  • Your household close contacts will need to self-isolate. It’s up to you and your family/household to decide if you want to isolate together in a quarantine facility, or if the person with COVID-19 goes into quarantine alone
  • When your COVID-19 diagnosis is a result of community transmission, your family/household members will not need to apply for an exemption to join you in a quarantine facility
  • If you have pets that will need to be looked after while you’re away from home, you will have time to make these arrangements
  • A staff member from your public health unit will support you in making these decisions and all necessary arrangements, including transport to the facility. They will confirm these details with you on a case-by-case basis over the phone.

Arriving at the facility

On arrival, you will be provided with a ‘welcome pack’ with information about what to expect during your stay.

You will be provided with three meals a day and snacks, Wi-Fi, laundry services and basic toiletries and refreshments, so you don’t need to leave to get supplies.

There is no cost to you for these services or the care that you receive. Read more about isolation facilities.

Receiving treatment for COVID-19

A dedicated health team will be caring for you, and they will confirm your treatment details with you on a case-by-case basis. In some cases, people with COVID-19 become very unwell and need to be admitted to hospital. In this case, the hospital will take the steps needed to isolate you while giving you the medical care you need.

If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you won’t need to pay for your stay in quarantine, or for any COVID-19 related medical costs.

Returning home from a quarantine facility

The health team that cares for you will determine when you can return home and resume your everyday activities. They will release you when there is confidence you are no longer infectious.

If you have a mild to moderate illness that didn’t require hospital care, this will be at least ten days after the onset of your symptoms, and after you have had no symptoms from this illness for the previous 72 hours. 

If you had a more severe illness and were in hospital, more time will be needed before you can return home and resume your usual activities.  This will be on a case by case basis and at least 10 days need to have passed since hospital discharge, there has been resolution of all symptoms of the acute illness for the previous 72 hours, and you do not have major immunosuppression (such as being within a year of bone marrow transplantation or receiving chemotherapy).

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