There are two common types of tests available for COVID-19, a viral test that tests for current infection and an antibody test that tests for past infections.
A positive COVID-19 viral test means an individual is infected with the virus and can pass the infection to others. A viral test is positive if the individual has enough of the virus in their system to be detected. Early in an infection, there may not be enough virus for the test to be positive. This means a negative test does not guarantee that a person will not become sick as the virus may be in the early stages of an infection. If someone has a negative test, they can still become infected and potentially infect others. A negative test is reassuring that someone was not infectious at the time the test was taken. Everyone, including those who have received a negative test, should practice social distancing, wash hands frequently, and wear a mask properly to protect themselves and others. If you think you might have COVID-19, call your provider first and they can arrange testing without coming into the clinic.
Antibody testing for COVID-19 may indicate a person may have had an infection in the past. The antibody test becomes positive about three weeks after a COVID-19 infection. Antibody tests are most accurate when there is a certain number of infections in a community. Currently the number of cases in Alaska is not high enough for the antibody test to be completely accurate. This means that a positive antibody test may be a false positive, which occurs when someone did not have COVID-19 but has a positive antibody test. A positive antibody test should be discussed with your provider to determine if you may have had the virus in the past. Antibody tests are not used to diagnosis COVID-19.
Studies have shown that wearing a mask, social distancing of at least 6 feet, and hand washing for 20 seconds helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others and helps protect you from becoming infected. Please continue to practice these safety measures.