Should people who test negative for COVID-19 continue to take precautions? Yes, according to many public health experts: People should continue to wear masks and observe social distance to reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths.
CDC safety guidelines were put in motion with the outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. in January of 2020. These guidelines involved mandatory mask-wearing, social distancing, restrictions on non-essential indoor and crowded outdoor settings, and regulations for testing and isolation. Cases began to drop after peaking in January and February 2022, but have continued to emerge—although in relatively low frequencies—across the country.
While testing negative for COVID-19 may make individuals feel as though they no longer need to take precautions, it is important to be aware that a negative test does not guarantee that they are not infectious or at risk of infection. The CDC continues to encourage and recommend safety precautions, including moving indoor activities to an outdoor setting and wearing a protective mask to minimize the risk of infection in case someone is exposed to COVID-19.
The lifting of mandates by the CDC has been accompanied by a decrease in regular testing for the virus.
Despite having the highest number of COVID-19 testing rates, New York State continues to observe a drop in daily testing.
Since the pandemic started, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have come out with resources to decrease the likelihood of contracting and severity of COVID. The vaccines being launched in mid-April 2021 and the antiviral medication Paxlovid was released in December 2021 to mediate the effects of COVID-19.
This chart from the NY State Dept of Health shows that the average molecular and antigen testing for COVID-19 has decreased in the recent months. Source: https://www.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-data-totals.page
Dr. Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the AmNews about the concern regarding testing today. Despite the prevalence of COVID-19 testing sites and easy accessibility to free at-home rapid testing kits, “A test is only a snapshot of one moment in time, so if you are symptomatic or recently exposed, it may be that the timing of the test is before you have enough virus in your body to test positive.” The FDA recommends individuals to reduce the possibility of a false negative by testing again after 48 hours. PCR tests are recommended for accurate results as they are highly specific and sensitive to the COVID-19 virus.
Jade Flinn, the program and unit director of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Biocontainment Unit, told the AmNews that “personal accountability and personal risk should also be considered in addition to testing.” She mentioned how this may include the “failure to mask or even vaccinate, resulting in infection” and “the risk of severe disease based on an individual’s current state of health or risk of spreading to close contacts who may have a higher risk of disease severity if infected.” Individuals should continue to be aware that not following guidelines and recommendations by the CDC may contribute to the low frequencies of cases observed today. By being more responsible and avoiding settings that increase one’s exposure to the virus or endangers those who are vulnerable, COVID-19 cases within the U.S. could continue to decrease.
Individuals should consider how having the option to wear masks or socially distance may affect the wellbeing of other individuals. Those who choose to not wear a mask or socially distance should be more aware of how their actions may put an individual who is susceptible to COVID-19 at risk of the virus.
Despite a negative COVID-19 test result, individuals may potentially be infected with the virus and may put others at risk by not taking other precautions. The U.S. documented in early January 2023 that 68% of the population of all ages are fully vaccinated. Despite New York having a vaccination rate of 79%, the test positivity is reported to be 14% as of January of 2023. Greater rates of vaccination across the nation are correlated with lower positivity rates or a decreased probability that an individual may contract the virus.
For more information regarding vaccines and boosters in New York City, please go to www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/covid/covid-19-vaccines.page. These and other resources can also be accessed on the AmNews COVID-19 page: https://amsterdamnews.com/covid/.