A negative COVID-19 test doesn’t mean you definitely don’t have the virus. It means there wasn’t enough virus collected to register as a positive at the time of your test.
You can test negative for COVID-19 and still have it.
A nasal swab test is merely a snapshot in time. In other words, receiving a negative COVID-19 test result today doesn’t mean you definitely don’t have the virus, but rather that there wasn’t enough virus collected to register as a positive at the time of your test.
It’s possible that you had the virus for a few days, but so little had developed it wasn’t detectible. Or, if you were tested too early after being exposed, the virus may have still been within its incubation period and not yet detectible. And there’s always the possibility that, unless quarantining, you could be exposed after being tested.
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“A negative COVID-19 test isn’t a free pass to lower your mask and get into crowded situations with individuals who do not live in your household,” said Monalisa M. Tailor, M.D., internal medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates – Barret. “A negative test doesn’t really change anything.”
Even after a negative test, you need to take steps to keep yourself and the community safer. Wearing a mask in public areas, practicing good hand hygiene and social distancing are still critical even if you had a negative test.
Falling into a false sense of security can open the door for additional opportunities for infection, which can contribute to community spread and strain public health resources.
If you’ve had direct contact with someone who has tested positive or were within 6 feet of them for a total of 15 minutes, you need to quarantine for 14 days.
If you need to work, the quarantine can be reduced to 10 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you had a test sample taken five days after exposure and you got a negative result, you can stop quarantine after seven days.