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Local health officials talk efforts to provide accurate coronavirus test results

Posted at 6:35 PM, Jul 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-27 22:22:25-04

False-positive and false-negative coronavirus test results have become a growing concern nationwide.

At Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria, health professionals say they use multiple testing platforms to provide the highest rate of test accuracy.

Each platform is designed to suit the specific characteristics of an individual being tested.

"So we have so many different testing platforms because we can't get a consistent test on any one platform," said Dr. Kevin Ferguson.

Health officials say this helps minimize false-positive and false-negative results.

This was a topic of discussion brought up last week at the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department's live briefing.

"What you don't want is somebody walking around in the community who actually has the disease and told by a physician after running the test that they don't actually have the disease," said Dr. J. Trees Ritter.

"We have rapid tests, high sensitivity tests, and high capacity tests. Again, each one has a unique clinical situation where they are best suited," Dr. Ferguson explained.

Even with the five different platforms, false-positive and false-negative results are still a possibility.

"These tests are set to have false positives. We don't want to miss anybody who has potentially COVID-19. We know that we are going to have to sort out results that don't make sense," Dr. Ferguson said.

The false-negative rate at Marian Regional Medical Center is only about 2%, according to Dr. Ferguson.

He says it’s important to follow up with your doctor when you get your test results back, no matter the result.

"Testing has known false-negative and false-positive results so it's important not to just accept that test result if it doesn't fit with the clinical picture. Some type of follow-up testing or evaluation needs to be performed," he said.

Health officials say they are in daily contact with the County Health Department to make sure patients who are suspected to be false-positive or false-negative can get re-tested.

The San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department says the tests it uses are 99 to 100 percent specific and the department has not had any false-positive or false-negative tests since the pandemic began.