January 5, 2020
As the pandemic continues, more people are getting tested for COVID-19. For quicker results, people choose to go to their local clinic to seek rapid testing. These tests are administered by throat, nasal swab or needle by a medical assistant or primary care provider. Testers are able to get their result on the same day, as opposed to waiting three to five days for most nasal swab tests. This method of testing seems like a quick and easy way to get tested, but unfortunately results are not trustworthy.
Recently, the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, shared he had two false negatives and two false positive results when doing rapid testing. According to the Wall Street Journal, “The rapid-response test isn’t considered as accurate as the PCR test that typically involves a nasal or throat swab.” After getting mixed test results, Musk took to twitter and explained his frustrations. Musk told his 35 million followers “Something extremely bogus is going on,” later adding, “If it’s happening to me, it’s happening to others.” People can give Musk the benefit of the doubt and say he has seemingly good intentions and is trying to help his impressionable audience, but he is only making them more skeptical about getting tested for COVID. His comments were shared amongst other doubtful followers who are opposed to lockdowns and other restrictions that are meant to stop the spread of the virus.
COVID-19 cases are still increasing at an alarming rate. According to the COVID Tracking Project, “Health officials in the U.S. are reporting higher infection rates, as well as more hospitalizations due to COVID-19 that rose to a record 68,516 Friday.” These statistics dispute Musk’s misleading claims. In March, the CEO said, “My guess is that the panic will cause more harm than the virus, if that hasn’t happened already.” This has proven to be untrue. Ashish Jha, professor of health services and dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said “Things are horrible and he is actively using his platform to say things that will lead to more infections and deaths. It is deeply irresponsible and he should be better than this.” It is important that people remain cautious and get tested during this time.
Jha refused to make a statement from Musk’s team. Musk’s deputies wanted the professor to say that the false positives made the pandemic seem much worse than it is. Jha rejected the offer and said, “The idea that there are all these false positives with PCR tests is junk.” The misleading information is dangerous because COVID-19 is not the only test that gives out false positives.
The Wall Street Journal explains, “False positives and false negatives can occur with any clinical test. False negative results, or failing to pick up a present infection, are more common with antigen tests, but false positives can also occur. Public health authorities sometimes recommend a confirmatory PCR test and say that test results should be looked at in conjunction with other pieces of information, such as symptoms and potential exposure.” The best option for the most accurate results is to get a PCR test or nasal swab test.
The unfortunate truth is that due to the recent virus, medical officials do not have all the answers and there are restrictions that occur when getting tested. It is important to be cautious, but also recognize the limitations of COVID-19 tests. Lauren Kucirka, MD, PhD, MSc, an obstetrics and gynecology resident at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in Baltimore said “A negative test, whether or not a person has symptoms, doesn’t guarantee that they aren’t infected by the virus,” she added. “How we respond and interpret a negative test is very important because we place others at risk when we assume the test is perfect.”
There are plenty of limitations Americans face as this pandemic continues. As we grapple with the confusion of mixed results it is important to remain cautious and educated on the virus. It is imperative that people do not get their information from celebrities and CEOs, but from factual articles and medical professionals. For the most accurate COVID-19 results, medical officials recommend getting a nasal swab test along with taking precautions such as wearing a face covering, washing your hands and social distancing.
Patiense Mckenzie is a senior studying English, focused on creative writing, with a minor in Spanish. Her passions are creative writing and poetry. Her career goal is to publish a book one day and to create a space for Detroit-local creatives to get paid for their art.