Why a negative COVID test doesn’t automatically mean you’re not infected


Coronavirus cases are continuing to spike around the nation.

As millions of Americans have yet to receive the COVID vaccine, some are relying on negative test results to remain safe and not spread the deadly virus.

Testing is essential to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but a negative result is not a pass to stop wearing face masks and ignore social distancing guidelines.

The Washington Post shared a few reminders about what a negative coronavirus test means.

The tests are not always accurate

While Americans continue to get tested, testing in the nation has ramped up significantly since the beginning of the pandemic. Data shows the daily test count has increased to approximately 1.5 million as of January.

When arriving for your test, there are two categories for tests: PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and rapid antigen tests.

PCR tests, which are considered to be one of the most accurate, use a molecular technique and can find trace amounts of the virus.

However, rapid tests only can detect proteins on the virus’s surface. Those tests are most accurate when a lot of the virus is in your body and when you’re most contagious.

PCR tests are the best way to see whether you are infected, even though they take longer to get results than rapid tests. However, PCR tests have also resulted in false negatives.

A test may not be able to detect the virus in early phases
According to an analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the false-negative rate of PCR tests on day 1 of exposure is 100%. However, the number decreases to around 38% five days later as symptoms typically appear. The number drops to about 20% after three more days.

“We don’t yet understand exactly when a person who’s infected will start testing positive for the virus,” Muge Cevik, a clinical lecturer in infectious diseases and medical virology at the University of St. Andrews, said in December. “So there are situations when a person could test negative, but they could still be contagious.”

If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus but receive a negative test result, you should get tested again in a few days. When waiting for test results, you should self-quarantine.

You could test negative and get infected right after

The potential to contract the novel virus immediately after taking a COVID test exists, which would mean a negative result would not be indicative of your actual status. This is something to keep in mind if you are using a negative result as an all clear to travel, especially if it means navigating crowded terminals, flights and other public spaces.

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