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LA doc warns that a negative COVID-19 test doesn’t make holiday gatherings safe

Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles County public health director, is warning residents that they should not use a negative COVID-19 test to justify attending gatherings during the Christmas holiday. Coronavirus cases are exploding in the state and a massive surge of infections is expected after Christmas.

“By the time you get a negative test result, you may no longer be negative,” Ferrer said. “And even if you have no symptoms, you can easily infect others.”

California hospitals are being slammed with patients currently and the outlook in that state is grim.

People are not heeding warnings to avoid Christmas gatherings and travel and some people are getting COVID-19 tests in hopes of being “cleared” to enjoy the holidays in groups. This same type of scenario allegedly played out before Thanksgiving and resulted in higher contagion numbers.

Health professionals are strongly suggesting holding holiday gatherings for immediate household members only to prevent further viral spread.

Dr. Christina Ghaly, the county’s health services director, said the strategy of families gathering this holiday season is “very dangerous,” and said that the approach is “a large part of what has led us to the situation that we are in today.”

California is currently reportedly averaging approximately 44,000 newly confirmed cases a day and has recorded 525,000 in the last two weeks. It’s estimated 12% of those who test positive end up in the hospital. That means 63,000 hospitalizations have occurred in the last 14 days of cases. The current figure is 17,190.

Ghaly said it’s feared entire areas of the state may run out of room even in their makeshift “surge” capacity units “by the end of the month and early in January.”

Amidst accusations of manipulated numbers and political fearmongering, officials are releasing alarming statistics. More than 115,000 people were hospitalized on Monday with COVID-19 — the most any single day has seen on record, according to the COVID Tracking Project.

The U.S. has also surpassed 18 million coronavirus cases, a Johns Hopkins tracker shows. The country saw a jump of 1 million cases in just about five days. Nearly 321,000 people have died nationwide.

It all depends on the timing of your test versus the timing of your exposure to the virus, as well as the type of test you take, experts say.

“Simply having a test at one point in time might mean that at that exact moment, you may not have a positive test, but in a few hours, a couple of days, you might turn positive,” Dr. Vanessa Walker, medical director of the Sutter Health Valley Area electronic ICU in California, told KCRA in November. “A negative test is not something that I feel good about when I want to expose myself to other people.”

There are two types of tests: PCR tests and rapid antigen tests.

PCR tests are the main diagnostic exams used during the pandemic, and they look for the coronavirus’ genetic material. These tests are expensive, highly sensitive, and can take hours to produce results, experts say.

Meanwhile, antigen tests look for pieces of proteins that belong to the coronavirus. These tests are cheaper and faster, usually producing results within an hour.

While both tests can tell if someone is currently infected, antigen tests have a high false-negative rate — sometimes as high as 50% — meaning a negative result might actually be a positive one, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

But even highly sensitive PCR tests can produce a false-negative if you’re tested right after exposure, Harvard Medical School experts say. That’s because your body may not have produced enough virus particles for the test to detect.

Peak infectiousness is two days before and one day after symptom onset, a study published in April states.

Health professionals with Johns Hopkins said that if you are exposed to a person with COVID-19 and test negative, you should still isolate yourself for at least 14 days. That’s because the disease can still develop between two and 14 days after exposure.

Much of the information being touted by officials is being contested but California is ringing the alarm bells as COVID-19 once again sweeps the state.

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