Health officials say negative COVID-19 test results can give false sense of security

Updated: Nov. 25, 2020 at 10:29 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Local health officials are warning against seeing family for Thanksgiving, even if you tested negative for COVID-19.

Dr. David Hicks with the Jefferson County Health Department said a negative COVID-19 test doesn’t always mean you’re in the clear.

“I like a negative test,” Hicks said. “But, you still can’t let your guard down. When you get exposed, we would say you should wait about five days before you get a test if you are completely asymptomatic. If you have symptoms, get tested immediately.”

Hicks said the virus has an incubation period and it can take up to 14 days for you to test positive. He said if you test too early, it may not be your real results. He said COVID tests are accurate, but it can vary based on samples and when you were exposed.

“That negative test doesn’t help you because even if it’s negative, you are in the incubation period, Hicks said. “It could pop up anywhere along the incubation period time.”

He also said if you have COVID-19, a negative test result doesn’t clear you from ending your quarantine early.

“When you go on quarantine because you have a positive COVID test, then the earliest you can get off of quarantine is 10 days later,” Hicks said. “When you get to that 10 day mark, you have to be fever free and symptom free for 24 hours.”

Hicks said even if you’re confident in your negative test result, you still need to maintain safe social practices this holiday.

“If you test negative then that gives you a ticket to go see Grandma, but you still have to social distance and wear your mask and everything,” Hicks said. “It is giving you a ticket to do all those things. Testing negative doesn’t mean Grandma will hug and kiss on you without a mask on.”

Hicks said multiple negative test results over a longer period of time is a good indicator that your results are accurate.

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