At this point, virtually every researcher and medical professional in the world is stressing the importance of widespread COVID-19 testing to control the deadly virus. However, with some government officials sending mixed messages about testing, many people are becoming confused. In this article, we will explore what you need to know about COVID-19 testing.
6. Who Needs a COVID-19 Test?
Ashish Jha, MD, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, states, “Anybody with even the mildest of symptoms needs to get tested because we need to find out if you’re infected and if you’ve been transmitting.”
Individuals who are not displaying symptoms might or might not need testing depending on their overall health and who they spend time with in their household or work environment. People working in healthcare, law enforcement, schools, and nursing homes clearly need frequent testing with or without symptoms of the virus.
5. Monitor the Spread
It is imperative that a community practice frequent testing and contact tracing to determine how widespread the virus is in the area. Jhl goes on to say, “If you can’t test people, you don’t really know how much disease there is [or] how much disease you’re missing and right now, I’m getting worried that we’re missing a lot of cases in Texas and Florida and other states.”
Anyone who lives in a high-risk area, shares a home with someone with COVID-19 symptoms, works with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus, or who is exhibiting symptoms should have a COVID-19 test.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states the following about their recommendations for COVID-19 testing on their website:
- People who have symptoms of COVID-19
- Those who have had close contact (within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes) with someone with confirmed COVID-19
- Anyone who has been asked or referred to get testing by their healthcare provider or state health department
4. Understanding COVID-19 Testing
Typically, symptoms of COVID-19 start to show up five to six days after exposure to the virus, but in some individuals, the incubation period can be up to 14 days after exposure. However, prior to exhibiting any symptoms, a person can still be contagious and actively shedding the live virus.
Many people never develop symptoms of COVID-19; they are known as asymptomatic carriers. Despite not having active symptoms of the virus, they are shedding it and can actively infect other individuals. Therefore, everyone should quarantine for at least 14 days after exposure to the virus.
3. The Test for COVID-19
The COVID-19 test (PCR test) detects the genetic material known technically as SARS-CoV-2. The virus lives in the nose and upper throat. You can get a false positive test. On day one of exposure, the possibility of a false negative is 100 percent, but by the fourth day after exposure, the probability of a false negative is 67 percent, according to MIT Medical.
Even if a person is showing symptoms of COVID-19, the chance of producing a false negative is 38 percent. After a person has had symptoms for three days, the rate of false negatives drops to 20 percent.
Please remember that some tests and brands are more sensitive than others. The sensitivity of the test must be taken into consideration when undertaking the COVID-19 test. In some areas of the world, they are using tests that show a false negative only 5 percent of the time five days post-exposure.
2. COVID-19 Negative Test Considerations
Clearly, there are many factors to take into consideration when testing for COVID-19. If you do not have active symptoms of the virus and you are testing negative, then is it safe to visit a nursing home or see your elderly parents?
This is a very personal decision, but false negatives do occur frequently so there is no guarantee even with testing that you do not have COVID-19.
If you have been exposed to COVID-19 and you test negative for the virus, you still must self-quarantine for 14 days even after obtaining a negative COVID-19 test.
A negative COVID-19 test simply says that you have no active virus. It does not mean you do not have the virus. You might have a low percentage of the virus or the swab was unable to pick up a sample of the live virus at the time of testing.
1. Positive COVID-19 Test
If you test positive for COVID-19 then the level of certainty that you have the virus is remarkably high. Unlike a false negative, a false positive is rare. After you have received a positive COVID-19 test, you should wait and retest to confirm that the active virus is no longer in your system.
Test before you go back to work, travel, visit an elderly friend/family member, or come into contact with the public. Only after you have obtained a negative COVID-19 test after testing positive for the virus should you stop self-quarantining.
Depending on your viral load, you might remain positive for COVID-19 for a month or more. This means that you could potentially expose people to the virus. You continue to actively shed live virus even if you no longer have any symptoms.