Health official explains why some people have coronavirus symptoms but test negative

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As hundreds of people continue to line up each day to be tested for COVID-19, some may be getting their results and asking how did they not test positive when they know they are experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus or they know they have been in contact with someone who is infected.

According to medical experts, there have been people who have taken COVID-19 tests multiple times, received the same negative results each time and then all of a sudden test positive.

News4Jax first learned about this from several nurses who work at an area hospital. One nurse told News4Jax about a patient who had signs of COVID-19 and took a test three times. The nurse said all three of the patient’s tests came back negative, but when the patient was tested a fourth time, the result was positive.

Dr. Pauline Rolle, of the Florida Department of Health in Duval County, is familiar with people’s frustrations over this issue.

“I know folks get concerned that, ‘Oh, maybe the test wasn’t reliable, maybe that person didn’t do a good job of swabbing me.' That’s not necessarily the case. In some cases, they may not have had enough viral load in their body to be detectible by the testing,” Rolle said. “It takes a certain viral load to trigger a positive test, and so, when you’re initially exposed, that virus may not have had the opportunity to replicate to the point where it’s detectible on a test.”

So, without an adequate amount of the virus in the body, the test can come back negative. This can happen a lot when someone decides to immediately get tested after learning they had just come in contact with an infected person.

“It can take two to 14 days to show symptoms of COVID-19 or for the virus to be detectible in your body,” Rolle said.

Rolle said this means the virus is not going to be detectible within the first day of possible exposure. She also said a negative test result, which eventually turns positive, can sometimes mean a person is sick from something else like the flu or allergies, which have similar symptoms to COVID-19.

“Those initial symptoms may or may not be related to COVID, and at some point, during the course, they may have been exposed to COVID and now have positive test,” Rolle said.

Due to these dynamics, it appears testing for COVID-19 is not slowing down.

“We are definitely seeing those who have been tested three, four and five times, some of which have had all negative tests and others who now have a positive test,” Rolle said.

Rolle said they are also seeing an increase in children who are now being tested for the virus.

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