Study: Testing People Without Coronavirus Symptoms Isn't Accurate Enough

Test results aren't always accurate if you aren't showing symptoms. [zstock / Shutterstock]
Test results aren't always accurate if you aren't showing symptoms. [zstock / Shutterstock]
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As coronavirus testing becomes more widespread, those at low-risk or with no symptoms can now be tested at certain locations, but one local researcher warns that the testing isn’t accurate enough for this yet. 

In his research Dr. Ash Sehgal, of Case Western Reserve University and MetroHealth’s Center for Reducing Health Disparities, simulated what would happen if we tested a million asymptomatic or low-risk people, given what we know about the accuracy of test results.

For every true positive result, he found there would be nearly six false positive results. That means 300,000 people out of the million tested would be unnecessarily quarantined.

“This tradeoff becomes much more favorable if we develop a more accurate test in the future," he said.

His research does indicate that greater testing and quarantining asymptomatic carriers would lead to 72,000 fewer infections, but for Sehgal, this wouldn’t be worth the downside of false positives.

He said it would be difficult for so many people to unnecessarily quarantine, and it would affect their jobs if they can't work from home, which could then affect the economy. 

The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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