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COVID-19 tests may give false sense of security during holiday season

Posted at 6:32 AM, Nov 25, 2020

If you're headed somewhere else for Thanksgiving tomorrow, you're not alone. Tens of millions of Americans are expected to travel this year, despite recommendations from health experts to stay home.

For some, a negative COVID-19 test is the go-ahead to go forward with plans to see family, but doctors say that might not be the best move.

The Centers for Disease Control says testing is one way to slow the spread of the virus, but with testing more readily available, some people might get tested and not take additional precautions like isolation, especially if the test comes back negative.

"The biggest misconception I've heard this entire pandemic is if I get tested today and I'm negative, I can see Grandma tomorrow. Absolutely not," said Dr. Jon Lapook, CBS's chief medical correspondent. "There's a two to 14-day incubation period, so if i get infected today, I might not become infectious until day 14."

That's why it's important to be careful, especially with rapid tests. Velocity Urgent Care locations around Hampton Roads are offering rapid tests by appointment, but they're so busy, you might have to wait a while before you can get in.

Even then, University of Virginia infectious disease expert Dr. William Petri says rapid tests aren't the end-all be-all.

"I think any test is not going to be 100 percent, and the antigen detection tests are less sensitive than the reverse transcriptase PCR tests that we started out, with in general," Petri said. "The antigen tests have to detect the amount of virus that is transmissible to other people. So they're not, they're not detecting the very, very lowest levels of infection, but they are detecting the level that is most associated with being transmissible."

Get tested if you think you've been exposed or if you have symptoms, but doctors say don't let a negative test give you a false sense of security if you're seeing family during the holidays.