No, a Negative Coronavirus Test Does Not Mean You Can Safely Socialize

Within the lead-up to Thanksgiving, Individuals aren’t any stranger to planning. However this yr, as they put together to let turkeys brine and pie crusts thaw, individuals throughout the nation are ready for one thing further: a coronavirus check they hope can clear them to mingle with family members.

Many individuals contemplate a adverse coronavirus check to be a ticket to freely socialize with out precautions. However scientists and medical doctors say that is dangerously misguided. It’s one precautionary measure however doesn’t negate the necessity for others, like quarantining, masking and distancing.

The primary purpose is that a check provides details about the extent of the virus at one time limit. An individual might be contaminated however not have sufficient virus but for it to register on a check. Or, a individual could turn into contaminated within the hours or days after taking a check. Additionally, the assessments do not need 100 % accuracy.

“In the event you require all your friends to e mail you a adverse check consequence earlier than your Thanksgiving dinner, it’ll positively lower the chance of an outbreak — however not fully,” mentioned Dr. KJ Seung, chief of technique and coverage for the Covid response at Companions in Well being. But that is a frequent misperception contact tracers hear when speaking to individuals, he mentioned.

The consultants agreed that assessments have been very helpful for one factor: If somebody receives a constructive check, that individual is aware of to remain residence and isolate. However a adverse check, whereas useful, will not be ample, mentioned Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency drugs doctor and a professor at Oregon Well being and Science College.

A check “filters out those that are constructive and positively shouldn’t be there,” she mentioned. “Testing adverse mainly modifications nothing about habits. It nonetheless means put on a masks, distance, keep away from indoors in case you can.”

Totally different assessments for the coronavirus give completely different info.

Laboratory assessments that depend on a approach known as polymerase chain response, or P.C.R., can detect the virus when it’s current even at very low ranges. Nevertheless it would possibly take a couple of days to return outcomes, leaving time for somebody to be uncovered. Antigen assessments are sooner, cheaper and extra handy — they will ship ends in a matter of minutes — however are additionally extra liable to lacking the virus when it’s scarce. To obtain emergency authorization from the Meals and Drug Administration, antigen assessments for the coronavirus have to detect solely 80 % of the infections discovered by P.C.R. Many speedy assessments additionally aren’t authorized for use in people who don’t have symptoms.

In some circumstances, a one that assessments adverse with an antigen check would possibly check constructive by P.C.R. — elevating the chance that a adverse antigen check might give somebody a false sense of safety en path to Thanksgiving dinner, mentioned Paige Larkin, a scientific microbiologist at NorthShore College HealthSystem in Chicago, the place she focuses on infectious illness diagnostics.

“A adverse result’s a snapshot in time,” Dr. Larkin mentioned. “It’s telling you that, at that actual second you might be examined, the virus was not detected. It doesn’t imply you’re not contaminated.”

After infiltrating a individual’s physique, the virus can take a number of days to construct up, and within the meantime, there will not be sufficient virus for a check to detect it. However the individual might nonetheless be contaminated or contagious within the interim. An individual who assessments adverse in the future would possibly flip constructive simply a day later, and even an hour later. Folks can unfold the virus within the days earlier than they first begin feeling unwell, and may unfold the virus even when they by no means develop signs.

“The problem then for the person is that a adverse check at this time doesn’t imply that a individual will probably be adverse tomorrow or the day after that,” mentioned Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics on the College of Florida.

Taking a number of assessments over a interval of days provides a clearer reply. However consultants cautioned that no check — no matter what number of instances it’s taken in succession — can definitively decide whether or not somebody contaminated by the coronavirus is contagious, or not poses a transmission danger to different individuals.

The October outbreak on the White Home is a good instance of what can occur when a group of individuals rely heavily on testing and ignore other strategies to restrict the unfold of the virus.

In an informal survey of 670 epidemiologists, simply 6 % mentioned that in the event that they lately examined adverse for the virus, they’d be snug spending time indoors with others with out precautions. Twenty-nine % mentioned they’d achieve this if everybody additionally used masks and stayed distant. And a full 64 % mentioned that even when they examined adverse, they’d not be snug spending time indoors with individuals they don’t dwell with.

Nonetheless, it’s usually unrealistic to keep away from different individuals for months on finish. Folks have to work and care for their fundamental wants, and so they additionally crave reference to household and associates. Danger is a spectrum, not binary, and there are methods to lower it, consultants mentioned.

“Don’t let the proper be the enemy of the great,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s prime infectious illness knowledgeable, said in a New York Times interview with Elisabeth Rosenthal. “The danger that you’ve, if everyone seems to be examined earlier than you get collectively to take a seat down for dinner, dramatically decreases. It may not ever be zero however, you already know, we don’t dwell in a fully risk-free society.”

Dr. Fauci, nonetheless, won’t be seeing his three grownup daughters this Thanksgiving.

Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard, mentioned that at this level within the pandemic individuals couldn’t be anticipated to get rid of coronavirus danger fully. He in contrast it to the chance of a automobile accident. To keep away from all danger, individuals wouldn’t get in a automobile in any respect. Seatbelts, airbags and adherence to site visitors legal guidelines all minimize down on danger, however they don’t imply somebody is totally protected — and folks don’t forgo utilizing a seatbelt simply because the automobile has airbags. Coronavirus precautions like testing, distancing and masking work in the identical manner, he mentioned.

Earlier than gathering with others, Dr. Mina mentioned, individuals might mix a adverse check with a two-week quarantine in the event that they’re in a position, and have a frank dialog with older relations in regards to the danger and whether or not they’re prepared to attend. At a gathering, he mentioned, danger mitigation methods would possibly embrace preserving dinner quick, internet hosting the occasion outside, carrying a masks when not consuming and giving air hugs as a substitute of touching.

Avoiding any contact with different individuals for a week or extra earlier than taking a check is a highly effective instrument, mentioned Jeffrey Townsend, a professor of biostatistics on the Yale Faculty of Public Well being. Not solely does it lower publicity, however it additionally provides the virus extra alternative to achieve detectable ranges in contaminated individuals, his research has found.

“You can do extra quarantine, and it’s fairly useful,” he mentioned. “However the check on exit actually helps, and it actually drops your likelihood.”

Professor Townsend will probably be celebrating this Thanksgiving at residence along with his spouse and kids. Regardless that he research testing protocols, he has by no means taken a coronavirus check himself, as a result of he has stayed at residence all through the pandemic apart from pressing wants.

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