Man questions reliability of rapid COVID-19 testing after false negative

"You really can’t base life decisions... on the rapid test alone.”
Posted at 7:03 PM, Nov 23, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Charlie Gray says he feels fortunate that he didn’t spread COVID-19 to his family and friends after receiving a false negative rapid test result back in September.

"It was very concerning. I felt obligated to let folks know that I had come in contact with over that 48 hour period that the first test came back negative, but the second test came back positive,” said Gray.

Primary and urgent care centers all across Richmond say they’ve been inundated with calls for COVID-19 testing appointments.

Several people want to be tested for the virus out of an abundance of caution, especially with the recent surge in cases.

While PCR tests are considered the most accurate form of testing, with results in about two to four days.

Rapid antigen tests can come back in a matter of hours, but they are most effective on patients showing symptoms early on in their illness or when they have a high viral load.

That's why doctors warn that rapid tests shouldn't be used to make a determination about whether someone is virus free.

"Let’s just say yesterday I was exposed and go get tested today. I won’t be positive, but in two or three days, I might turn positive and I’ll start being infectious and start spreading it even before I have symptoms," said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University's School of Public Health.

Gray says he received both tests to determine whether he had COVID-19 when he experienced mild symptoms.

While the rapid test came back as negative, it wasn’t until a few days later, that the PCR test confirmed he had the virus.

"You really can’t base life decisions, medical decisions and exposure decisions for you, your family or friends on the rapid test alone,” he added.

Doctors say even if you get tested for COVID-19, you should continue to take safety precautions including wearing a mask, practice social distancing and frequent hand washing.

The CDC is also recommending that small family gatherings for the thanksgiving holiday be held outdoors if possible.