Here’s why you should still take precautions after a negative COVID-19 test.
You got the COVID-19 test, and now you have to anxiously await the results. At this point, you probably know someone who tested positive (or you know someone who knows someone else). It makes sense that everyone is on edge. When the email arrives in your inbox, you sigh with relief when you see your negative COVID-19 test result. Everything is fine, right?
A Negative COVID-19 Test
A negative COVID-19 test could mean that you don’t have the virus in your body—you’re safe and free of infection. On the other hand, it could mean that the virus hasn’t reproduced enough to show up on the test. If that is the case, you might receive what is known as a false negative.
The two main reasons you might’ve gotten a false negative are:
- An unreliable test: There are different types of COVID-19 tests. Some are more sensitive than others. A test that is less sensitive might miss COVID-19 antigens or genetic material, and you will get a false negative.
- You got the test too soon: This is the most likely reason. For example, you may have had close contact with someone with COVID-19 on Friday. If you go to get the test on Saturday, you might not have enough COVID-19 in your system to show up on the test. Therefore, your test would read negative. If you retook the test a few days later, you would likely receive a positive test.
Should You Get Retested?
If you have a negative COVID-19 test, you may want to get retested if you:
- Are having COVID-19 symptoms
- Had close contact with someone with COVID-19
Remember, if you have symptoms of COVID-19, be sure to call your doctor before going to the hospital. Your doctor may have special protocol to avoid spreading COVID-19 to other patients.
Stella A. Safo, MD, is an HIV primary care physician and assistant professor of Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.