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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Getting A COVID-19 Test Before Thanksgiving? Here’s What You Should Know

Sarah Delia

With Thanksgiving approaching, many people in the Charlotte area are planning to get tested for COVID-19 before traveling or gathering with family and friends. When and where should you get tested? And what can you do if you don't have symptoms?

When Should I Get Tested?

“I strongly encourage anyone who plans to travel or gather with people outside of their household for Thanksgiving to get tested for COVID-19 about three or four days ahead of time,” North Carolina’s State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Thursday.

If you think you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, health officials at MIT Medical said you are most likely to test positive between five and seven days after exposure. According to MIT, on average, symptoms of the virus develop five to six days post-exposure, but the incubation period can be as long as 14 days. And some people never develop noticeable symptoms. You are not likely to test positive for COVID-19 one day after exposure.

You may have to wait a while for test results. According to DHHS, on Tuesday the turnaround time for test results was just over two days. Plan for longer result times just in case.

Remember: a negative test only tells you that, at that particular moment in time, your sample did not show viral levels high enough to be reliably measured. It does not mean you were not exposed and infected.

“Even if you have a negative test result, it’s not a free pass,” Cohen said. “Tests represent a moment in time and rapid tests miss some cases.”

What If I Don’t Have Symptoms?

You should still get a test, according to state health officials.

“This is the first time that we are recommending a test when it’s not falling in the buckets of ‘You have symptoms’ or ‘[You] have been exposed,’” Cohen said.

She said that on screening questionnaires for testing at places like Walgreens or CVS, you can check the box that says you’ve been prioritized for testing by a health care professional.

“If you’re going to get a test ahead of Thanksgiving, you want to indicate that the state public health officials told you that that’s what our recommendations are,” Cohen said.

What Kind Of Test Should I Get?

There are two kinds of diagnostic tests—a PCR test and a rapid antigen test. The PCR test works by detecting genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the nose and upper throat.

Rapid antigen tests detect the presence of a specific viral antigen. Antigen test results can be available in as quickly as 15 minutes. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rapid antigen tests are generally less sensitive than PCR tests and could give potentially incorrect results. The CDC said the “gold standard” for testing is still the PCR test.

Where Can I Get Tested?

You can find a list of COVID-19 testing places compiled by North Carolina’s health department here. Mecklenburg County Public Health has also put together a countywide test site locator.


CVS and Walgreens offer drive-thru, self-swab tests but slots fill up quickly. Available appointments are posted about three days out.

Screening Centers

Novant Health runs a coronavirus screening center near Central Piedmont Community College. Walk-ins are accepted and patients are screened by a nurse to see if they’re eligible for testing. More information is available here or by calling (704) 316-0490.

Charlotte's Tryon Medical Partners also operates two satellite testing locations. Get more information here.

Pop-Up Testing Events

NCDHHS keeps a running list of free community test events here.

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Mobile Testing Sites

Atrium Health drives a testing bus to various locations throughout Charlotte. According to the hospital system, this testing center is only for community members with symptoms. Atrium posts upcoming testing dates and locations here. You can also call (704) 468-8888 to schedule a test at an alternative location.

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Urgent Care

You may also be able to schedule a test at an urgent care location.

For Novant urgent care, you can see your nearest locations and hours here or schedule via phone at (980) 308-0143.

Find an Atrium urgent care center near you here. To avoid long wait times, you can try to reserve an appointment time online. Under “reason for your visit,” you can select “In-office exam: COVID exposure” or “In-office exam: COVID symptoms.”

American Family Care also offers COVID-19 testing at urgent care sites. See Charlotte-area locations here.

Doctor's Office

Appointments may be available through your regular primary care provider. Call them for details.

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