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A New Worry Emerges on Coronavirus Tests

Doctors say 1 in 3 infected test subjects may receive false negatives
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 2, 2020 1:45 PM CDT

(Newser) – The good news: Coronavirus testing is expanding as both private labs and government institutions speed up the process. The bad news? The jarring possibility that 1 in 3 infected test subjects are getting false negatives. The stat comes from a Wall Street Journal story in which doctors and health care experts assess the current testing climate. The caveat: "They caution that only limited data is available, and their estimates are based on their own experience in the absence of hard science." Coverage and related developments:

  • Not so great: An exec at the medical group Envision Healthcare tells the Journal that currently available tests have a "sensitivity" of 70%, a measurement of accuracy. What this means is that "nearly one in three positive patients walks away with a reassuring negative result," writes Christopher Weaver. That is a worse mark than is typical for such tests, but the estimate seems legit, says a physician in Kentucky. He and other doctors are learning this first-hand when patients who test negative return with worsening symptoms.

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