‘Better safe than sorry’: When to get a COVID test, even if vaccinated

Delta variant contributes to breakthrough cases

MADISON, Wis. – As the Delta variant spreads, health officials say whether you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 or not, you may end up needing a test.

According to Public Health Madison & Dane County’s testing director, Ken Van Horn, testing has nearly doubled from where it was two weeks ago, now averaging between about 1,400 and 2,000 daily tests countywide.

“Although we had seen a real lull in the late spring and the early summer, we’re now tracking increased case numbers of COVID,” Van Horn said. “We’re seeing a real increase in testing as well. We would expect to see that, because there are more people who are symptomatic and more people who are contacts of known cases now.”

While breakthrough cases in people who are vaccinated have often been called rare, UW Health’s Dr. Bill Hartman said he thinks the more appropriate term would be “uncommon” as the Delta variant makes virus spread more easily.

“We are seeing them more and more, although you are still protected against severe illness and death very much by the vaccines. But the Delta variant has been a wildcard. It’s writing its own story here,” Hartman said. “The people that become infected with the Delta variant have a thousand times higher the viral load than they did with the Alpha variant … It’s really rewritten what we thought we knew about COVID at this point.”

Whether someone has gotten the vaccine or has symptoms, PHMDC recommends they get tested if they have been around someone with COVID-19 three to five days after exposure. Also regardless of vaccination status, if someone has COVID-19 symptoms, they should also get tested.

“The really big three are cough, sore throat and fever,” Van Horn said. “Cold symptoms, you’re generally not going to get a fever with it. That’s one of the things you can use to differentiate.”

Jenny Bothun, SSM Health’s regional manager for employee health, said she’s been getting more questions about whether or not to get tested for COVID at this stage of the game.

“With where we are, having to be masked again and the rise in what we’re seeing, it’s really better safe than sorry,” Bothun said. “Any time symptoms are consistent with COVID, you need to get tested.”

Bothun said one of the hallmark symptoms she’s tracked is loss of taste or smell, but there are a variety, including body aches and a new or unusual headache. When in doubt, she said it’s best to call your doctor.

Health officials stress that while breakthrough cases are possible, the vaccines make a significant difference.

“The take-home lesson of Delta is that if we were more vaccinated as a population, we would be able to kind of nip this in the bud,” Hartman said.

“Where the vaccine excels is keeping you out of the hospital and keeping you alive,” Van Horn said. “The vaccine 100% does that.”

Van Horn points to PHMDC’s website for a list of locations to get tested for free in the Dane County and the surrounding area. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has a statewide map on its website, as well.