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When’s the best time to get a COVID-19 test?

September 2020

When it comes to coronavirus testing, timing is everything.

If you think you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, your first instinct is probably to rush out and get tested. Not so fast. Current research suggests that timing plays a critical role in testing accuracy.

According to Clinical Oncology News, researchers have found that testing for COVID-19 “too early in the course of an infection is likely to result in false-negative test results, even though the patient may eventually test positive for the virus.”

Take a closer look at false-negatives.  

  • Researchers estimated that patients tested in the four days after infection “were 67% more likely to test negative, even if they had the virus.”
  • When the average patient initially began displaying symptoms, the “false-negative rate was 38%.”
  • Testing performed best “eight days after infection, but even then had a false-negative rate of 20%.”

An article from Harvard Health Publishing speaks to the relationship of test results and timing and notes that “if you are tested on the day you were infected, your test result is almost guaranteed to come back negative, because there are not yet enough viral particles in your nose or saliva to detect.”

So if you’re worried that you’ve been exposed to the novel coronavirus, it’s important to pause, evaluate if you have symptoms, and then consult with your primary care physician or healthcare provider.

However, if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, be sure to contact your primary care physician or healthcare provider right away. And you can always check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for the most up-to-date information.

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