False negatives in coronavirus testing are unavoidable but rare

Some patients are testing negative for the coronavirus even though they have it, and a D.C. doctor says it’s unavoidable but exceedingly rare.

“We’ve done hundreds of tests now, and we’ve seen a couple of negatives that when retested were positive,” said Dr. Gary Simon, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

And while they do occur, “statistically, you’ll always see a false negative in any type of population. It’s impossible to say it’s 100%.”

As a result, someone who comes in with classic symptoms of the coronavirus but tests negative will be tested again.

Simon said the current thinking is that the nasal swab test could be more reliable than the oral test. But he stressed there’s not much data to back that up.

“It’s believed — without really good evidence — that nasopharyngeal testing is a little better than oropharyngeal testing,” Simon said.

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John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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