The question of the New Year is a carryover from the Old Year: Where to get a COVID-19 test?

But with the incredibly transmissible Omicron variant tearing through the state, people should consider another critical question, especially with at-home tests in short supply: When to get a COVID-19 test?

A cough, fatigue, congestion and a runny nose are common Omicron-related symptoms, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But those symptoms also could be caused by a cold or flu. Sometimes, even an at-home test isn’t the final word.

“We tend to take a positive test and interpret it as a real positive,” said Dr. Ulysses Wu, Hartford HealthCare’s System Director of Infection Disease and Chief Epidemiologist, at a midday media briefing Jan. 3. “Where the disparity happens is really the negative at-home test. A negative at-home test doesn’t mean you are truly negative at this point.”

When in doubt, consult the When to Test calculator developed by Consortia for Improving Medicine with Innovation & Technology of Boston, with funding from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Here is the information you’ll need:

  • Location: Your state and county.
  • Vaccination status: Are you fully vaccinated?
  • Mask usage: Do you regularly wear a mask indoors when around people you don’t live with?
  • Most recent test: Have you had a COVID test in the past 15 days?
  • Daily contacts: On an average day, how many people outside your household do you come within six feet for a total of 15 minutes?
  • Socializing: Have you attended a social gathering in the past seven days and do you plan to attend one in the next seven days?

The results, available for both individuals and return-to-work organizations, include a testing recommendation and your risk of getting, or spreading, COVID-19.

The state’s positivity rate, based on PCR testing used by Hartford HealthCare and other health systems, reached a record 21.5 percent Jan. 3, breaking Dec. 30’s 20.33 percent. The vaccine remains the best protection against serious illness or death from COVID-19.

“The vaccine is absolutely working,” said Dr. Wu. “If there was no vaccine, these numbers we are seeing now that seem large would pale in comparison.”

Earlier in the day, the Food and Drug Administration extended the emergency use authorization of a Pfizer-BioNTech booster dose to youths 12 to 15 years old.

“We continue to see the majority of individuals who are hospitalized with this disease are over 65 or have an existing comorbidity, including being immunocompromised,” said Keith Grant, APRN, Hartford HealthCare’s Senior Director of Infection Prevention. “If you have individuals in your family who fall into this spectrum, encourage them to get vaccinated.”

Hartford HealthCare’s testing sites (for locations, click here) include drive-up PCR-only tests by appointment in Newington and New Britain. As at-home tests become more common, consult your doctor for next-step guidance.

“We’re very much focused on not just the testing but the clinical care and recommendations and guidance,” said Dr. James Cardon, Hartford HealthCare’s Chief Clinical Integration Officer. “As people are more and more testing at home with the rapid antigen test, sometimes they’re just looking for guidance and clinical expertise on what to do next. We’re making sure that’s available through our virtual healthcare component.”