COVID-19 Testing Isn't Perfect & BC's Top Doctor Said It Can Miss Up To 30% Of Early Cases
But we still need our tests.
Testing is such a huge part of understanding the pandemic right now. B.C.'s provincial health officer said there are sometimes false negatives in COVID-19 testing. This is especially true when you're still in the early stages of infection and some cases could be missed.
During her daily news conference on Monday, April 13, the province's top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry, confirmed that the current tests can sometimes be wrong.
"People can be negative one minute and positive within an hour. The test itself is not as sensitive as we expected it to be at the beginning," said Henry.
"We now know that the false-negative rate can be as high as 30 percent early on in infection."
She was talking about new outbreaks in long-term care facilities. In these cases, she said it was hard to test new cases because the tests aren't very effective in the early stages.
"The norm is not to test people who do not have symptoms because we know the test doesn't perform very well and we can have false negatives," she said.
Having said that, she also noted that when symptoms do come up, they change to having a "very low threshold for testing anybody to and make sure that we can try and get ahead of it as best as we can."
During the meeting, Henry announced 45 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, bringing the total to 1,490. 11 more people have died.
In Canada right now, our provincial governments still strongly advocate for increased COVID-19 testing. While results may give false positives in the early stages, they still provide important modelling data.
Earlier today, the federal government just approved athat works differently than our usual test and provinces are already ordering of kits.
The concern around false positives has been brought up in the U.S. as well. A few health experts have spoken up, including Yale Medicine Professor Dr. Harlan Krumholz.
"If you have had likely exposures and symptoms suggest Covid-19 infection, you probably have it — even if your test is negative," he said to the New York Times.
Despite the possible false positives, Henry and our healthcare system still rely a ton on the tests, not just to confirm cases but also to work out proper, so we still need testing. Armed with that data, B.C. is poised to seriously flatten the curve.