FALSE NEGATIVES: Why timing is everything with COVID-19 testing

Published: Sep. 15, 2020 at 5:58 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services says many people may be confused on when to get tested for COVID-19 after an exposure. Here in the Ozarks, experts say the wrong timing could lead you to a false negative.

“Some people might have thought ‘oh I’m negative, I’ll just go and live life as normal because I have that negative result,' and I think that is what is so scary about it," said KY3’s Nikki Ogle.

Nikki opted for a COVID-19 test after coming in close contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. Her initial results? Negative.

“I knew that I was more than likely positive and that negative result became all the more frustrating when I lost my taste and smell," she said.

Days later, Nikki was able to get in for a second test. That one came back positive.

”The stress of possibly exposing my family members was just as bad as feeling under the weather because I didn’t know whether I had it or not, so I didn’t know whether to freak my family out," she said. “I didn’t know when I was potentially contagious because you don’t get contacted from the health department until you’ve tested positive.”

Dr. Nancy Yoon, Chief Medical Officer for the Springfield-Greene County Health Department said with the coronavirus, timing is everything.

“The optimal time frame to get tested would be in that five to seven day window after someone has been exposed," Dr. Yoon said. “You need to give it a few days for the levels of the virus to be high enough in the body so that the lab can detect that result."

Dr. Yoon said many people don’t realize how long they need to quarantine after an exposure.

”Even if a person gets a negative test result at day five or something like that, they do still need to quarantine for 14 days because it could take up to that 14-day period to become infected," Dr. Yoon said.

If you test positive, Dr. Yoon said it is probably accurate.

”There is different testing problems, you know if a sample wasn’t obtained well enough or it didn’t get in the right place or if it was tested too early, those are situations where you could get a false negative, but we’re not really concerned about having false positives," Dr. Yoon said.

Nikki recovered from the virus and is doing well.

Dr. Yoon said if you feel your symptoms are getting worse, she does recommend getting re-tested.

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