Why you shouldn’t rely on a negative COVID test to see your family for Thanksgiving


If you receive a negative diagnosis on a COVID-19 test, it doesn’t necessarily mean you do not have coronavirus.

Before visiting your family on Thanksgiving, health experts want people to know it can take days before an infection shows up on a COVID-19 test, CNN reports.

“We know that the incubation period for Covid-19 is up to 14 days. And before that, you can be testing negative, and have no symptoms,” emergency medicine physician Dr. Leana Wen said. “But you could actually be harboring the virus and be able to transmit it to others.”

Experts have shared what you need to know if you want to get tested before seeing friends and family members for the holidays.

If you got infected yesterday, would a test today pick that up?: The answer is probably not. In the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, a study researched false-negative results of people who actually tested positive for coronavirus. The study found that during earlyl days of infection before symptoms typically started, “the probability of getting an incorrect/negative test result on Day 1 was 100%.”

"The virus just takes time to replicate in the body to detectable levels," Justin Lessler, a senior author of the study and associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said.

How many days should a person wait after possible exposure to get tested?

"There is no hard and fast rule, but the evidence suggests getting a test before the third day after exposure is not of much use," Lessler added.

Could I be contagious while testing negative?: The answer is yes. "People sort of feel like if you test (negative), you're out of the woods. And you're kind of not," Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital said. Symptoms can take an average of five days to appear, she added.

"It's generally thought that you're most infectious the two days before that day and the two days after that," Walensky said.

What should you do if you want to see family and friends?: Walensky said if you need to see family and friends it is essential to self-quarantine for 14 days beforehand. "If you do that properly, you don't need a test," she said. "That's probably the cleanest way to do it." She also stressed quarantining means staying at home and not going out to run errands.

What is the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving?: The CDC suggests celebrating with loved ones virtually online for Thanksgiving.

Walensky said making small sacrifices will make sure families will be able to sit at the table together for 2021.

"I have three kids. ... And my parents are not going to be joining us this year," Walensky shared.

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