Although many states are beginning to open back up for business, the COVID-19 pandemic is still long from over. Testing for the virus has improved in recent weeks, but does that mean it’s advisable for everyone to get tested, even without any suspicion of having the virus?
The answer to this question is more complex than you might think.
“The tests are not perfect, and the result will tell you only so much,” writes MPR News.
A positive test result could mean any number of things. You could be asymptomatic, which means you have the virus but it’s not affecting you. You could also be presymptomatic, which could indicate that symptoms will emerge in the very near future.
Or, it could just mean that you recently had COVID-19 without knowing it.
On the contrary, a negative test result may give us a false sense of security. Epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert Dr. Emily Landon said that it’s unclear how good these tests are, especially when they come back negative.
“We know [these tests] are pretty good at picking up COVID when it’s present in people who have symptoms. But we have no idea what a negative test means in an individual that doesn’t have symptoms.”
Dr. Landon stressed that “we are certain that there are people who test negative even though they are definitely contagious.” While a positive test is conclusive that the patient has COVID-19, a negative test does not necessarily mean otherwise.
It takes several days after exposure to COVID-19 for the patient to test positive, and test result inconsistencies confuse doctors and medical experts about what many of the results actually mean in reality.
But, does this confusion imply that you should not get tested? According to Yale Clinical Epidemiology professor Robert Hecht, the answer is no.
“This idea that you should be both concerned about your own status and recognize that you can be infected without symptoms — and that states should try to make more testing capacity available for people like that,” he says. “I think those are all good things in general.”
Getting tested without symptoms isn’t a bad idea. But, how can we best use the coronavirus test results?
If we test positive, then most medical experts agree that self-isolation is the best course of action. Monitor yourself for further symptoms. And, take basic hygiene precautions like washing your hands often, wearing a mask, and keeping your distance from other people whenever possible.
If your test is negative, remain vigilant and cautious because it might not mean that you are out of the woods. Practicing basic hygiene is still in your best interest.