Can a Person Test Negative and Later Test Positive for COVID-19?

February 10, 2022
Young woman receiving COVID-19 nasal swab test

There are plenty of pandemic-related questions swirling in the universe right now. How accurate are COVID-19 tests? How soon is too soon to get tested? And most importantly, when will this all end?

We at PhysicianOne Urgent Care can’t solve all of these mysteries, but we can address one of the most frequently asked questions we hear: Is it possible to test negative and later test positive for COVID-19? Unfortunately, yes—it is possible. Let’s take a closer look.

False Negative COVID-19 Tests

Although today’s COVID-19 testing methods are accurate in the large majority of cases, false negatives can sometimes happen. A false negative occurs when an individual’s test comes back negative even if they are actually infected with SARS-CoV-2—the novel coronavirus responsible for the respiratory illness we know as COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a patient can falsely test negative if he or she gets tested too soon after exposure—meaning that there is not yet enough of the virus in the patient’s body to be detected by a test. It may take some time—even a few days—for the viral load to build up and become identifiable.

How to Avoid a False Negative Test

The CDC currently recommends waiting five days after possible COVID-19 exposure to get tested. This time frame will help ensure the most accurate results and reduce the likelihood of a false negative. While waiting to receive your test, be sure to stay at home and avoid others, especially if you begin to develop symptoms.

Still, waiting five days to receive a COVID-19 test and completely isolating yourself in the meantime isn’t always feasible. In these instances, it’s a good idea to schedule a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test if you have symptoms or have been exposed to a COVID-19 positive case on days three to five days after exposure or onset of symptoms. If you test too early, the likelihood of a false negative test result does increase. Considered the “gold standard” of COVID-19 diagnostics, PCR tests are highly sensitive to the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2 and can usually detect an infection before an antigen test can. On the flip side, you may continue to test positive for COVID-19 for several days after your infection has cleared and is the reason why PCR tests are no longer required to leave isolation or quarantine after a COVID-19 infection.

COVID-19 Testing at PhysicianOne Urgent Care

Living during a pandemic brings about plenty of confusion. Thankfully, PhysicianOne Urgent Care is here to help residents of Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York find answers to their questions and take steps to protect their health. Affiliated with Yale New Haven Health and Tufts Medical Center, our highly rated network of urgent care centers offers multiple types of COVID-19 tests, including:

  • PCR testing
  • Rapid antigen testing
  • Antibody testing

Our friendly clinicians can listen to your concerns and help you determine which type of test is best for your specific situation. We also offer convenient telemedicine services that allow patients to consult “face-to-face” with us from the comfort and convenience of home. Plus, we’re available during extended hours every day, 365 days per year.

PhysicianOne Urgent Care has you covered. To learn more about our COVID-19 testing services or find answers to your questions, please call 860-650-3848.

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