Your Coronavirus Test Results Are Definitely Wrong If You Made This Mistake

Getting tested for coronavirus too early could lead to a false negative, according to experts.

If you think you may have been exposed to coronavirus, it's understandable that you'd want to know as quickly as possible if you've contracted it. However, new research suggests that jumping the gun when it comes to getting tested for coronavirus is likely to lead to a false negative.

A May 2020 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that being tested on the same day you're infected with coronavirus will likely yield a 100 percent false negative rate. By day four after exposure, that number drops to 67 percent. However, if you wait until the onset of coronavirus symptoms—which frequently include fever, shortness of breath, a cough, fatigue, and/or confusion—the chances of getting an accurate test result increase dramatically.

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Getting tested on the first day of symptoms reduces the median false-negative rate to 38 percent; by the third day of symptoms—or eight days after becoming infected—the false-negative rate is slashed to just 20 percent.

positive for the coronavirus sheet

Unfortunately, with such high false-negative rates, people may be overconfident about the risk they pose to others and that may further the virus's spread now that many states are reopening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that approximately 40 percent of coronavirus cases are transmitted by individuals who are either asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic (meaning that they're infected, but have not yet experienced coronavirus symptoms), suggesting that getting tested too early could mean you're inadvertently putting others at risk if you're going out in public or seeing friends.

Even if you've received a negative coronavirus test, it's important to keep wearing your mask when you're in public or any time social distancing isn't possible. In fact, a June 2020 study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A suggests that continued mask-wearing might just be the best way to prevent a second wave of coronavirus from occurring. It's not just perfect adherence to covering up that will potentially work, however—according to the study's probability models, if 50 percent or more of the population regularly wear masks, it could effectively flatten the virus's reproduction rate, reducing the likelihood of future coronavirus spikes. And if you want to know how long you'll be waiting after getting tested, Here's How Long It Really Takes to Get Your Coronavirus Test Results Back.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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