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Six reasons not to get a corona test

Updated: Apr 11, 2020

by Al Lewis

Obviously if you are short of breath, you should stop reading this right now, and go to the ER. In fact, if you are that short of breath, you should either be reading this while in the ER itself, or not at all.

Likewise, if you are a frontline healthcare provider (and thank you for that!), have a member of your family whom you may have unknowingly infected, or have another very specific reason to know whether you are infected, by all means get tested.

Otherwise, here are six reasons why you may not want to get tested for coronavirus if you have no reason other than you aren’t feeling particularly well.

1. The test isn’t that accurate

Here in Massachusetts, only about 17% of test-takers test positive. At the high end, other places range up to 50% positive. That means 50% to 83% test negative…and we question whether that all those people who are sick enough to go through the effort of being tested truly don’t have it. Some who test negative are healthcare workers who are tested as a matter of policy, but that still leaves a lot of people who get voluntarily tested because they think they have it, but nonetheless test negative.

So there could be a significant false-negative rate, and we are far from the first to suggest this could be the case.

If you have symptoms not serious enough for emergency care, and you justifiably lack confidence in the outcome of the test, you won’t be any better off for having taken it. So why take the test if you are just going to assume – as well you should -- you have it anyway despite testing negative?

3. What would you do differently if you test positive?

Nothing different if you have mild or moderate symptoms because there is no drug that can stop the virus. So, you would do the same symptomatic treatment that you usually do for any viral infection: stay home, rest, fluids, acetaminophen or low dose ibuprofen for body aches, and taking steps to prevent the spread of infection to others.

For the coronavirus or any viral respiratory infection, that means physical distancing, washing your hands or using an alcohol based sanitizer frequently, not preparing meals for others, wearing a mask, and taking other precautions to help prevent spread of infection.

Quizzify teaches that there is no point in taking any test if it doesn’t change the treatment plan. In this case, there is no treatment plan to change. Don’t take our word for it. Just ask yourself: “What would I do differently assuming I am positive?”

4. If you test negative and then want a retest a few days later, what happens?

As of this writing, there isn’t exactly a surplus of tests available. Hence in many areas they are hard to come by. Good luck persuading a provider to give you a second test if the first one was negative. Many won’t even give you a first test. You would be demanding a second test when other people may not even be able to get a first one. The healthcare system is overburdened enough as it is.

5. You are exposing yourself to other people when you get tested.

Clearly, the #1 way this disease is spread is through social contact. If you go anywhere to get tested, you are taking a risk, however low it may be, of exposing yourself to others. And not random others, but rather others who have reason to think they should get a corona test. You might be thinking: “Well, with all the precautions being taken these days, my chance of infection is maybe 1 in 1000.”

True indeed. But if you take ten 1-in-1000 risks a day, over the course of a month, that’s a lot of risk.

6. Other people in the ER have other diseases

These days no one is going to the emergency room unless they really, really need to. Do you want to expose yourself to them and whatever other diseases they have?

So what should you do instead?

Quizzify fans may recall that we, like everyone who has researched this subject, aren’t big proponents of getting checkups every year. They don’t prevent anything to speak of -- and, if they did, it certainly would not be coronavirus.

However, we are big believers in having a relationship with a primary care provider (PCP) strong enough to get your phone calls returned. And this is a case in point where it is helpful to have a PCP who knows who you are. If you have a PCP and you think you have coronavirus, you can work with your PCP to develop a contingency plan to deploy if your condition takes a turn for the worse.

The good and the bad news is that it will likely be the same plan if you don’t have a PCP. The difference is that in some situations, if you call your PCP in advance, they contact the ER to let them know you’re coming. And it is possible that your electronic medical record can be accessed by the ER. That might possibly change the treatment plan, but if you’re sick enough to need emergency care, chances are it’s the same treatment plan regardless.

And if that’s the case, chances are you’re not reading this blog right now, nor should you be.


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