negative-covid-test COVID-19 tests can produce false negative results, especially in the early days of infection before symptoms begin.
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A study shows that a negative COVID-19 test could depend on the day of infection.

If you’re planning on seeing family or friends during this holiday season, you shouldn’t base your visit on a negative COVID-19 test. According to a research study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine journal, COVID test results can vary and don’t always produce accurate results. The results will depend on when the infection occurred and when symptoms began. 

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The study’s aim was to look at the false-negative rate by day since infection. The results determined that an incorrect, negative COVID test is 100% possible during the four days before symptoms begin. 

Furthermore, if someone with COVID begins to show symptoms, the probability of getting a false test result dropped to 38%. Each day after that, the likelihood of getting an incorrect test result continued to decrease. 

In other words, for people getting test results on the day they’re planning to see people, they risk possibly infecting others because of false test results. 

“The virus just takes time to replicate in the body to detectable levels,” Justin Lessler, a senior author of the study and associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNN. “You can get infected by just a few viral particles, but these will not be detectable until they have time to replicate to adequate levels to be detected.”

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So what’s the best way to determine whether or not you should visit your family or friends based on COVID test results? The hard answer is you shouldn’t. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises you should only partake in holiday celebrations with people in your household. And if you do have to see people, you should wear a mask and adhere to COVID restrictions. 

However, according to a survey conducted by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, it’s unlikely people will refrain from gathering with others during the holidays. According to the poll, 2 in 5 Americans will likely attend large holiday gatherings.

Dr. Irfan Hafiz, who specializes in infectious diseases at Northwestern Medicine, told The Americano that while it’s becoming increasingly difficult to refrain from seeing family and friends, as the spike continues, it’s a sacrifice people must make to stop the spread of COVID. 

“I realize that for everyone, the holidays are stressful, and you wanted to get out and meet people because loneliness is hard,” Dr. Hafiz said. “But it’s probably not a good idea to have a lot of people get together.”

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