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COVID-19 Rapid v. PCR Test Accuracies: Local Medical Experts Weigh In

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The holidays this year are certainly different than anything we have experienced before. With the rise in the number of Covid-19 cases, people are tasked with making important decisions about gathering {safely} on Thanksgiving. Does a negative Covid test result {either from the rapid antigen test or the PCR test} mean it is okay to visit family? Hoboken Girl spoke to experts in the field to help our readers determine the best possible scenario.

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Discussing the COVID-19 Test Accuracies: Rapid Test v. PCR

There are two main types of tests: Rapid Antigen Test {results received within minutes/same day} and PCR Test {polymerize chain reaction — results take a few days}. And, according to medical experts — they’re very different, with varying accuracies. Here’s what the local doctors had to say about them:

David Boguslavsky, MD, from PremierMD and BackToWork Solutions told Hoboken Girl: “The rapid tests are rapid and give you results within a few minutes to a few hours, but unfortunately, they’re highly inaccurate so they can give a false negative 50-90 percent of the time. So would I feel safe going to a gathering after a negative rapid test? Absolutely not. That test does not give me any sort of comfort as far as protecting those around me from the standpoint of safety… PCR Tests are much more accurate. It can detect as few as five copies of viral RNA in your nasopharynx, so it’s incredibly accurate, but it takes a few days to come back.”

Dr. Boguslavsky suggests taking a rapid Covid test and getting a negative result isn’t completely reliable, and Dr. Avisheh agrees while also noting taking PCR tests only detect if you’re negative “in that moment.”

Dr. Avisheh Forouzesh, M.D., infectious disease doctor of Hoboken’s Advanced Infectious Disease Medical, told Hoboken Girl: “If you’re talking about the PCR test, you have to understand that that’s a snapshot. So that means in that moment if that PCR test is negative, you’re negative at that particular moment in time. But that doesn’t mean that 5 days down the line, 7 days down the line, you’re still going to be negative… That’s an issue with these tests… Let’s say you can take a test today and you’re negative, but you were potentially exposed to someone you didn’t know, and they were asymptomatic. That doesn’t mean that your test is going to remain negative. Let’s say if you repeat that test a week later – 7 days or 8 days later – there’s a very good chance that that test could be positive at that time. So it’s not a full proof that ‘I’m negative now, I’m going to be negative these next 14 days.’”

Dr. Deena Adimoolam, M.D., Specialist in Internal Medicine and Endocrinology explained further, telling Hoboken Girl: “A negative COVID test does not always mean you don’t have COVID-19. Our data to date suggests that COVID tests are most accurate when a patient is symptomatic since their viral load is expected to be the highest at that time. A false negative COVID test {meaning you have COVID-19, but your test was negative} can occur in patients who are infected with COVID-19 and are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. This group of asymptomatic COVID-19 patients is the most concerning because they feel well yet are contagious and infect others unknowingly {15-20% of those with COVID-19 infection}. This is why it’s so important for everyone to practice social distancing measures and wear masks at all times.”

Read More: Socially-Distant Thanksgiving 2020: Creative Ways to Enjoy the Holiday

How to Still Stay Safe for a Thanksgiving Gathering

“If travel is an absolute necessity, of course, get tested, {but} I still would say make sure you keep that distance of six feet. If it’s going to be an indoor gathering, depending on where people are traveling – if it’s cold, you have to be indoors – then I would still say keep the distance, make sure you wear the mask {and} only take it off during eating,” Dr. Avisheh Forouzesh said.

“You have to be careful. It’s very horrible times right now. I can tell you from what I’ve seen in the past couple of weeks at the hospital, it’s a definite uptick, it’s a definite surge, and the numbers are rising exponentially again. We don’t want to go back to where we were back in March and April.”

Dr. Boguslavsky added, “I think a risk is a function from something that’s entirely risky to something that’s risk-less. If everything exists on that long gradient – certainly wearing a mask, having a well-ventilated room, taking off the mask only when you eat or drink with a small gathering, is much safer than doing none of those things – gathering in a large crowd, not wearing a mask, having loud music, sitting [together at] a large table and having our usual Thanksgiving meal.”

Dr. Adimoolam suggests, “Anyone who might be sick should stay home. [Keep] 6 feet distance from others at all times – this might mean that not everyone sits around the dinner table – they may need separate chairs away from the table. Masks on at all times when not eating or drinking. Avoid large groups. Wash hands throughout the day {and} keep hand sanitizer readily available. Use disposable plates, forks, etc. Everyone clears their own plates. Wipe down all surfaces that are touched frequently {doorknobs, faucets, etc}.”

See More: Daily Coronavirus Tracker for Hoboken + Jersey City

Overall Advice for Gatherings

“My advice is we all have to make some sacrifices… so really the safest bet is to if you can, stay within your immediate household and sacrifice this Thanksgiving so you can celebrate the upcoming holidays at least with your family members, and hopefully in the coming year, we {can} have a better year, and we can hopefully go back to where things were or close to normal as possible,” Dr. Avisheh Forouzesh said. “I mean generally, in light of what’s going on and the second surge and the uptick that we’re seeing across the country – not in one particular region either; now it’s all over the country – my first recommendation is yes, avoid going to family gatherings, especially if it’s going to be an indoor event.”

Dr. Deena Adimoolam added, “If you are considered high risk for severe Covid infection, consider celebrating Thanksgiving only with those that you live with and are in contact with every day. Celebrate Thanksgiving with your quarantine team only! Consider incorporating other family and friends into your day virtually via video, etc… {and} for those traveling in from a ‘high-risk state,’ consider having them quarantine 14 days before visiting you.”

The NJ COVID update as of November 24th showed 4,383 new positive cases and 48 new confirmed deaths. Governor Phil Murphy tweeted, “With Thanksgiving just two days away, we urge everyone to stay safe. Avoid gatherings. Wear a mask. Social distance,” and also shared, “This Thanksgiving spread gratitude – not #COVID19. We urge everyone to plan for a small gathering with your immediate household only. The smaller the gathering, the safer we all are.”

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After landing her dream job as a reporter for In Touch Weekly and Life & Style Weekly, Diana moved to The Heights in 2014 and has been living in Jersey City since then. Diana enjoys riding her bike at Lincoln Park and taking fitness classes in the downtown area in her free time. She loves binging reality TV shows, dining out and grabbing drinks with friends, and traveling to new places. Her work has led her to meet and interview celebrities as well as attend exclusive events and premieres in New York City. But at the end of the day, what she enjoys the most is cuddling up with her newly adopted kitten, Chloe.


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