COVID testing to protect loved ones this holiday season could give you a ‘false sense of security’, new study warns

If you’re getting tested for COVID before visiting vulnerable loved ones this holiday season, be aware—quick tests at home can give you a false sense of security, according to a new study. wrong.

Researchers in the Netherlands asked medical professionals to pick the noses of thousands of people, then sent them home with a quick test to complete on their own. They found that rapid tests give false negatives about 75% of the time, according to the study, published Saturday in Clinical Microbiology and Infections.

When the researchers eliminated infected people with the lowest viral loads, the rapid tests still gave false negatives more than half the time. Such tests do, the researchers wrote, “adequately,” but only after individuals have developed symptoms.

The holidays are the best time to get together as a family—and let illnesses like COVID, flu, and RSV spread. Although new variants have so far prevented COVID from becoming a seasonal disease, outbreaks are common in cold weather, when individuals tend to stay indoors and gather to celebrate the holidays.

Early in the pandemic, public health officials urged people visiting elderly or immunocompromised friends and relatives—both vaccinated and unvaccinated—to get tested and cups before their visit. The same goes for people who plan to gather in large groups.

But in the age of Omicron, rapid tests “can only detect a small number of infections,” the researchers wrote. This may be because people with asymptomatic COVID often have low viral loads–and don’t have a runny nose, making it much easier to test positive.

Self-examination has “limited value to asymptomatic individuals who wish to protect vulnerable populations and may even lead to a false sense of security,” the authors write. “People should be aware of this and better informed about other prevention options such as physical distancing or the use of masks.”
Researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation of the University of Washington School of Medicine project a continued to gradually increase in COVID cases to January, the end of their prediction period. The number of weekly deaths from the virus in the United States hovers around 2,500, According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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