Ahead of Holidays, Doctors Warn Negative COVID-19 Tests Don't Replace Need for Masking, Distancing

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After returning from a trip to Cancun with her husband, Marlo Slovacek's first stop was to get a COVID-19 test before heading back to work.

“We returned back on Thursday. I was tested on a Friday. It was a rapid test, and it was a negative result,” Slovacek said.

The couple took it as a green light to make plans to attend the TCU football game the next day. But then, her husband awoke sick at 3 a.m.

“I mean, he was coughing, had the fever, everything,” Slovacek said.

This time, both got tested with a PCR test. Both tested positive.

It was just four days after Slovacek's first test was negative.

“Just because you have a negative test in hand doesn't 100% guarantee that you don't have an asymptomatic infection,” said Baylor College of Medicine assistant professor of medicine and infectious diseases Prathit Kulkarni.

Kulkarni warned stories like Slovacek’s are one of the reasons tests can’t be used in place of proven methods of protection against the virus, especially as we head into the holiday gathering season.

He said that’s particularly true for rapid tests, some of which a recent study from the University of Arizona showed detected just one-third of infections in patients without symptoms.

“Everybody having a negative test doesn't eliminate the need to still do masking and physical distancing if you are going to come together,” Kulkarni said.

Though Slovacek said she always intended to do those things, she still couldn't help but wonder “what if” when it comes to the football game she and her husband would’ve attended with friends had his symptoms not shown up just hours before.

“The fact that we would be in that area where there are more people, as opposed to just a walk in the park or something like that, was extremely scary," she said. "You just don't even know that you could be the person who exposes somebody who has those underlying conditions or take it home to somebody who has underlying conditions."

In total, it took Slovacek and her husband four weeks and four tests to finally be declared COVID-19 negative.

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