Doctors: Testing is key to tracking COVID-19, but how and when makes a big difference


DENVER (KDVR) — As COVID-19 cases rise in our area and hospitalizations increase, health experts agree the virus isn’t leaving anytime soon.

“The reality is Jan. 1, 2021, it’s not over,” Dr. Michelle Barron, Medical Director of Infection Prevention for UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital said.

Dr. Barron says after a person is exposed to someone with COVID-19, testing too soon can be misleading.

“Once you’re exposed, its not wham-bam and you’re sick in the moment,” Barron said. “It usually takes three to five days for the infection to manifest.”

Barron recommends getting tested, at the earliest, five days after being exposed. She stresses the importance of quarantining a full 14 days after exposure if there is significant contact, regardless of the test result.

“Some people don’t test positive until day 13,” Dr. Barron said.

As for how reliable testing is, Dr. Barron says there are a lot factors; that’s why health experts rely on symptom screenings in combination with testing.

“There’s all these variables, how well did you get swabbed, did they swab both sides,” Dr. Barron said.

For instance, she says the 15 minute rapid antigen test could produce some false negatives, but rarely produces false positives.

“They have very few false positives, so if it’s positive that’s usually good,” Dr. Barron said.

The two-hour rapid PCR tests, she notes, works best with a thorough swab from nose to throat. However, Dr. Barron says there is a 40 to 60% chance of a false negative for people with no symptoms.

Additionally, testing that solely swabs from the nose is thought to be 20% less sensitive, Dr. Barron said.

Dr. Barron says to isolate for 10 days after a positive test.

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