What to Do If You Have COVID Symptoms but Your At-Home Test Is Negative

What to Do If You Have COVID Symptoms but Your At-Home Test Is Negative
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There was a time when testing positive for COVID came with the confidence that you wouldn’t get reinfected for a few months. Unfortunately, we no longer have that sense of short-term protection. In addition to keeping yourself safe with a well-fitted mask, it’s smart to redeem your free COVID tests by mail and test regularly.

The good news: At-home COVID tests have never been more readily available. The bad: As you’ve probably heard (if not experienced firsthand), at-home antigen tests aren’t perfectly reliable.

The COVID strains currently circulating, BA.4 and BA.5, are particularly good at evading detection by at-home antigen tests, according to experts. Here’s what to do if your at-home test results are negative but you’re still experiencing COVID symptoms.

Why your COVID test could be negative

A negative test result cannot totally rule out infection. If you’re experiencing COVID symptoms (or you were exposed to COVID), but you’re taking comfort in a negative test, a few things could be going on.

The BA.4 and BA.5 might take longer to show up on at-home tests. Even if it’s not one of these highly transmissible strains, you may have tested too early regardless (you should wait at least five days after exposure to test). Similarly, your viral load might not be high enough to give a positive result, even though you are infected with the virus.

Then there’s good ol’ user error. Even before the current variants, at-home antigen tests were never a perfect system. This isn’t to suggest that you should eschew them altogether; experts told CNBC that people should still use at-home antigen tests if they’re experiencing symptoms or have been exposed to the virus.

CDC guidelines say that no matter your situation, you should test again one to two days after your negative test. Make sure you’re storing your at-home tests correctly and consider getting a PCR test done if you can.

If you’re experiencing symptoms, you should isolate

If you have COVID-like symptoms, you should assume you are contagious, even if it ends up being something other than COVID. It’s a good idea to stay home and keep others safe. Remember: Your “mild” symptoms could manifest far more severely in someone else.

The bottom line is if you feel sick, you’re probably sick with something. A negative test result doesn’t magically make your physical symptoms imaginary. Isolate and mask indoors. Even if it’s not COVID, no one wants whatever you have.

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