A single negative COVID test doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have the coronavirus.
Doctors say rapid antigen testing is not the best way to determine whether or not someone has coronavirus due to the fact that it is only 75-85% accurate.
"The rapid antigen test does have some pitfalls and can be false negative,” Dr. Karen Landers of the Alabama Department of Public Health said. “That’s why we cannot rely solely on the test.”
According to Landers, PCR testing is still the “gold standard” and accurate 95-98% of the time.
Current guidance recommends symptomatic people who received a negative rapid test should follow up with a PCR. Landers said if you have symptoms, you should presume you have COVID unless a PCR shows otherwise.
"I think this is where we have the risk of community transmission -- where persons think they have a cold or a sinus infection and so they have a negative rapid they don't follow up with a PCR and then they turn out to have COVID, probably a mild case of COVID, but they spread this to other people."
Additionally, she says no test is perfect and it's important people remember to wait five to seven days after an exposure to get tested, unless you're showing symptoms.
She explained that antigen testing is most useful in surveillance situations, where people are testing on a weekly basis.
“But again, randomly doing asymptomatic testing with antigen testing is not really a good practice just to say, ‘Well, I’m “COVID-free.”’
Despite that, Landers says the positivity rate is still over 10% -- way above the state's goal of less than five percent.
With variant cases identified in the state, there is concern that tests may not be able to catch these strands, specifically the highly transmittable UK variant. State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said that doesn't seem to be an issue in the state.
"We don't believe that we're missing any variants at the moment based on our testing, but certainly, theoretically, that's a concern and we'll continue to monitor that,” Harris said.