As this pandemic drags on, we all search for ways to inject a sense of normalcy into our lives. And maybe for you that meant enjoying a mask-free Monday lunch with a friend you haven’t seen for weeks.
Unfortunately, she calls you later that evening to tell you that someone in her “quaranteam” just tested positive for COVID-19, so she might have it (and potentially could have exposed you at lunch). Can you run out on Tuesday and get tested?
You can, but you shouldn’t. Here’s why.
The most widely used type of viral test for COVID-19 looks for the presence of actual viral particles in mucus taken from your nose. These particles won’t show up in a person’s mucus until the virus has reproduced enough to create a great quantity of them. In other words, if you get exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus on Monday, your bodily fluids won’t reflect the presence of the virus on Tuesday. Typically, it takes at least a few days for the virus to show up in your system.
The problem with getting a COVID-19 test too soon after exposure is that it can produce a false-negative result. In fact, one study estimated that 100% of people infected with the virus probably would produce a false-negative test result on Day One of their infection.
And the problem with receiving a false-negative result is that it may give you a false sense of confidence that it’s OK to go about your normal life.
It is not.
If you know you were exposed to COVID-19, you should immediately self-isolate. Avoid coming in contact with other family members or the general public. Call your doctor’s office for instructions on when to get tested. If you must leave the house for testing or medical care after a known exposure, be sure to wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet away from other people -- even if you don’t feel sick.
And maybe give your friend a call to wish her well and thank her for the heads-up. By alerting you to the COVID-19 exposure, she’s given you the opportunity to self-quarantine as early as possible and perhaps avoid infecting anyone else.