Local doctor says getting tested 1 to 3 days after a COVID-19 exposure is ‘worthless’

Investigations

AUSTIN (KXAN) — We hear it time and time again: someone is exposed to another person who has tested positive for the coronavirus. They immediately book an appointment for a COVID-19 test and get tested within a couple of days. It comes back negative and they go back to business as usual.

Dr. Stephen Pierce, who works at the Texas MedClinic near Mopac Expressway and Parmer Lane says getting tested one to three days after being exposed to someone with the virus is worthless.

“It’s frustrating for us as physicians,” said Pierce. “You have to tell them, ‘You’re negative, but you still might be infected. Your testing is too soon after your exposure to be sure that it’s a valid negative result.'”

The incubation period for the virus is around five to seven days, but can be up to 14 days. That means it will likely not be detected in someone’s system until several days later.

Even the Centers for Disease Control says early testing after exposure at a single time point may miss many infections.

So, how long should you wait? If you’re not experiencing symptoms, Dr. Pierce tells his patients to quarantine for 14 days, but to wait until after day seven to get tested for COVID-19.

“The best test is eight days or more after exposure,” said Pierce. “Then you have an 80% reliability that it’s going to be a correct result.”

Those who are showing symptoms should get tested sooner, but a patient can be experiencing symptoms for a couple of days before the virus is detected by a COVID-19 test.

Dr. Pierce said his clinic is just as busy as ever seeing patients related to the virus, and all testing appointment remain filled. Recently, he’s seen a lot more young people, specifically students from the University of Texas.

“Occasionally, they were out in a crowd of people, but for the most part typically they have one or more roommates who are positive for coronavirus,” said Pierce.

UT Austin has not updated new case numbers since Friday after coming off its highest week of new student cases yet: 113.

It could be a week or more before we find out how well Central Texans did slowing the spread of the virus over the Labor Day weekend.

Texas MedClinic is also seeing quite a few cases of strep throat, and a few cases of the flu so far.

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