Officials: False negatives possible in coronavirus tests, but not an issue currently in KY

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Posted at 2:11 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 14:12:30-04

(LEX 18) — Currently, Kentucky has far more negative coronavirus test results. As of 5 p.m. on April 6, 2020, the state has done 19,995 tests and has 1,008 positive coronavirus cases. But, are all the negative results correct?

That's a topic Governor Andy Beshear was asked about on Monday.

"There's a question here about some healthcare workers saying that our COVID tests are giving false negatives," said Beshear, as he read the question.

The governor admits all tests have a degree of inaccuracy, but he believes Kentucky is not currently having that issue.

"We've not had any reports of false negatives at the State Department of Public Health, but all lab tests have a rate of inaccuracy," said Beshear. "But we believe that the testing accuracy rates are very high for the tests - certainly - that we have been doing in our lab, and that's the one that we can control. We also, at any new lab, have to confirm five positive tests and five negative tests, and I don't believe we have had any inaccurate results coming in."

Kentucky's Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Steven Stack, confirmed that false negatives are always possible in lab tests, but he believes the tests are reliable overall.

"I've been very consistent in the last few weeks saying a negative test does not guarantee you don't have the disease," said Dr. Stack. "A positive test means you do have the disease, but a negative test does not guarantee you don't have the disease. That's because sometimes if you test too early, and certainly if someone is not showing symptoms, you may not have enough virus in your body for us to find it when we test you."

Dr. Stack says a false negative can also be caused by an inaccurately collected sample. That means the person swabbing your nose does not get a good enough sample on the swab.

"So if you haven't had a sample collected properly, you could have a false negative. Now the tests are very, very reliable, but they're not perfect," said Dr. Stack. "And I've said for weeks, it's essential that the person ordering it, orders it on people who are likely to have a value to the test, they know how to interpret it, and that the patient understands that a medical personnel who understands how to properly use the test is important. So please don't go seeking tests unless you've talked to a healthcare provider because getting a test alone does not really help you."