COVID-19: A negative test doesn’t mean you’re in the clear

By Dr. Brendan McCarville and Dr. Sarah Fraser

We are in an unprecedented time. With the amount of information available, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes the information we consume is confusing. 

For example, at a March 16th press briefing, President Donald Trump addressed the public about COVID-19.  He stood next to Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials. A reporter asked him whether he should be taking greater precautions for social distancing between himself and Pence to protect the chain of command in case one of them falls ill. According to the official White House transcript, Trump said, 

“Well, we haven’t thought of it, but, you know, I will say this: That it’s—we’re very careful.  We’re very careful with, you know, being together. Even the people behind me are very—they’ve been very strongly tested. I’ve been very strongly tested.  And we have to be very careful…”

In other words, Trump seemed to use his negative test result as a reason to be less vigilant about social distancing. Our concern with this response is that it could create a false sense of security for people who test negative for COVID-19. The reality is that even with a negative COVID-19 test, you could still acquire the infection. If fact, your chance of getting the infection is basically the same as anyone else. 

You still need to practice the same precautions, such as social distancing and hand-washing. While a negative test result means you might not have an active infection, it does not lower your risk of getting one in the future. You would still need to be concerned about getting infected and passing the virus on to others. The bottom line is–if you have tested negative for COVID-19, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. The best advice for everyone is to continue following the recommendations of our public health officials.

Learn about how we can stop the coronavirus from spreading at the Public Health Agency of Canada website.

Dr. Brendan McCarville is a physician in Nova Scotia. He has not yet been tested for COVID-19

Dr. Sarah Fraser is a physician in Nova Scotia. She is author of Humanity Emergency: Poetry of a medical student. She has also not yet been tested for COVID-19.

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