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

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

No, a Unfavorable Coronavirus Check Does Not Imply You Can Safely Socialize

Within the lead-up to Thanksgiving, People 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 damaging coronavirus check to be a ticket to freely socialize with out precautions. However scientists and docs say that is dangerously misguided. It’s one precautionary measure however doesn’t negate the necessity for others, like quarantining, masking and distancing.

The principle motive is {that a} check provides details about the extent of the virus at one time limit. An individual could possibly be contaminated however not have sufficient virus but for it to register on a check. Or, an individual could grow to be contaminated within the hours or days after taking a check. Additionally, the exams do not need 100% accuracy.

“In case you require your whole company to e mail you a damaging check end result earlier than your Thanksgiving dinner, it’s going to undoubtedly lower the chance of an outbreak — however not utterly,” stated Dr. KJ Seung, chief of technique and coverage for the Covid response at Companions in Well being. But it is a frequent misperception contact tracers hear when speaking to individuals, he stated.

The consultants agreed that exams had been very helpful for one factor: If somebody receives a constructive check, that individual is aware of to remain dwelling and isolate. However a damaging check, whereas useful, shouldn’t be ample, stated 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 undoubtedly shouldn’t be there,” she stated. “Testing damaging principally modifications nothing about conduct. It nonetheless means put on a masks, distance, keep away from indoors when you can.”

Totally different exams for the coronavirus give completely different data.

Laboratory exams that depend on a way referred to as polymerase chain response, or P.C.R., can detect the virus when it’s current even at very low ranges. But it surely would possibly take a few days to return outcomes, leaving time for somebody to be uncovered. Antigen exams are sooner, cheaper and extra handy — they’ll ship ends in a matter of minutes — however are additionally extra susceptible to lacking the virus when it’s scarce. To obtain emergency authorization from the Meals and Drug Administration, antigen exams for the coronavirus have to detect solely 80 p.c of the infections discovered by P.C.R. Many speedy exams additionally aren’t approved to be used in individuals who don’t have signs.

In some instances, an individual who exams damaging with an antigen check would possibly check constructive by P.C.R. — elevating the chance {that a} damaging antigen check may give somebody a false sense of safety en path to Thanksgiving dinner, stated Paige Larkin, a scientific microbiologist at NorthShore College HealthSystem in Chicago, the place she focuses on infectious illness diagnostics.

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

After infiltrating an 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 may nonetheless be contaminated or contagious within the interim. An individual who exams damaging in the future would possibly flip constructive only a day later, and even an hour later. Individuals can unfold the virus within the days earlier than they first begin feeling ailing, and can even unfold the virus even when they by no means develop signs.

“The problem then for the person is {that a} damaging check as we speak doesn’t imply that an individual will likely be damaging tomorrow or the day after that,” stated Natalie Dean, an assistant professor of biostatistics on the College of Florida.

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

The October outbreak on the White Home is an efficient instance of what can occur when a gaggle of individuals rely closely on testing and ignore different methods to restrict the unfold of the virus.

In an off-the-cuff survey of 670 epidemiologists, simply 6 p.c stated that in the event that they lately examined damaging for the virus, they’d be comfy spending time indoors with others with out precautions. Twenty-nine p.c stated they’d achieve this if everybody additionally used masks and stayed distant. And a full 64 p.c stated that even when they examined damaging, they’d not be comfy spending time indoors with individuals they don’t stay with.

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

“Don’t let the right be the enemy of the great,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s prime infectious illness skilled, stated in a New York Occasions interview with Elisabeth Rosenthal. “The chance that you’ve, if everyone seems to be examined earlier than you get collectively to sit down down for dinner, dramatically decreases. It won’t ever be zero however, you recognize, we don’t stay in a totally risk-free society.”

Dr. Fauci, nonetheless, is not going to be seeing his three grownup daughters this Thanksgiving.

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

Earlier than gathering with others, Dr. Mina stated, individuals may mix a damaging check with a two-week quarantine in the event that they’re ready, and have a frank dialog with older relations concerning the threat and whether or not they’re keen to attend. At a gathering, he stated, threat mitigation methods would possibly embody maintaining dinner quick, internet hosting the occasion outdoor, carrying a masks when not consuming and giving air hugs as an alternative of touching.

Avoiding any contact with different individuals for per week or extra earlier than taking a check is a robust device, stated Jeffrey Townsend, a professor of biostatistics on the Yale College of Public Well being. Not solely does it lower publicity, nevertheless it additionally provides the virus extra alternative to achieve detectable ranges in contaminated individuals, his analysis has discovered.

“You are able to do extra quarantine, and it’s fairly useful,” he stated. “However the check on exit actually helps, and it actually drops your probability.”

Professor Townsend will likely be celebrating this Thanksgiving at dwelling together with his spouse and youngsters. Despite the fact that he research testing protocols, he has by no means taken a coronavirus check himself, as a result of he has stayed at dwelling all through the pandemic apart from pressing wants.

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