Are False Negative PCR COVID-19 Tests Common?

How To Understand COVID-19 Test Results

When getting tested for COVID-19, a valid concern you may have regarding your COVID-19 test is whether or not the test produced accurate results. Is it possible that your test could come up as a false negative? This question is actually more common than you may think. 


To first answer this question, we have to understand what true and false results mean. In the case of positive test results, a true positive means that the test correctly identifies the patient as COVID-19 positive. A false positive result means the patient does not have COVID-19 even though the test came up positive. Similarly, a true negative means that the test correctly identified the patient as being COVID-19 negative. In contrast, a false negative means that the test came up negative when in actuality the patient does have COVID-19. So the main concern regarding false negatives is that patients who believe they are safe are actually carrying the virus when the test says otherwise. 

How Common Are False Negative Results

Now back to our initial concern, is it possible for PCR tests to have false negatives? The quick answer is yes, it is possible to have false negatives occur in a PCR test, but how often do these happen? PCR tests are said to have 100% sensitivity and 98% specificity, meaning that 100% of positive tests will be a true positive and 98% of negative tests are a true negative. This means in that threshold of 2% exists the possibility of tests coming back with false negatives, or patients who tested negative actually do have the virus. (To read more on the accuracy of COVID-19 tests, visit our blog post on it here). The key thing to remember is that no diagnostic test can be 100% accurate all the time and currently PCR tests are the most accurate test we have to diagnose COVID-19. So while there is a possibility of PCR tests giving false negative results, they are not very common and they remain the most used diagnostic test for finding out if someone has COVID-19.

If you would like to get tested for COVID-19, you can scroll down and look for one of our OnPoint Testing Centers in you area and choose which type of test you would like to get. Additionally if you would rather get tested from home we also have a Certified Teleservice for COVID Testing that can be used with any EUA certified test. 

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