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Coronavirus testing criteria: A quick reference for South African healthcare workers

Summary of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) updated coronavirus testing criteria for healthcare workers.

Publication title: Updated Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Quick Reference for Health Workers

Author(s): National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD)

Publication date: 31 March 2020


This is an updated reference guide for the testing of the coronavirus. This guide is intended for healthcare workers and outlines the criteria for coronavirus testing, as recommended by the NICD.

Key take-aways:

  • The NICD says that people with a serious respiratory illness and who also have at least one of the following symptoms, qualify for a test: A cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or fever (or a history of fever). They must also have travelled to a high-risk country in the last 14 days or have been in close contact with a suspected case of COVID-19 — this includes healthcare workers treating ill patients.
  • The NICD recommends that patients testing for COVID-19 should be isolated and assessed in a private room. Further, patients should wear surgical masks during their consultation and their movements around the facility should be limited. 
  • Healthcare workers should wear personal protective equipment, such as masks and protective eye gear, when performing exams that could expose them to the patient’s bodily fluids.
  • The examining health professional will collect appropriate samples from the patient’s respiratory tract (or airways passages). The NICD recommends samples be drawn from the lower respiratory tract — the area close to the voicebox and windpipe. According to the NICD, this is the primary site of coronavirus disease infection. 
  • District or provincial communicable disease coordinators (CDCs) must be notified if patients meet the testing criteria. CDCs can also be alerted on receipt of a COVID-19 lab diagnosis. 
  • CDCs must then notify the NICD, which will then begin the process of contact tracing

You can find and download the updated guidelines here.

[Please note: Information on the new coronavirus is rapidly changing. Please refer to the NICD for the latest information. Visit for updates on South Africa’s coronavirus response]

[Please note: these guidelines were updated on 2 April 2020. Read the new guidelines here).]

Gopolang Makou was the impact and engagement officer at Bhekisisa.