The at-home test says you’re COVID negative, but your body says you’re positive—so very positive.
What (or whom) to believe?
No, your body isn’t gaslighting you. If you’re certain you’re COVID positive, you probably are—regardless of what the test says, Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins’ Department of Medicine, told Fortune on Tuesday.
“It’s a funny situation when you’re confronted with a big surge of infections,” Ray said, referencing the fact that in many areas of the U.S., COVID levels are at or near record highs—as evidenced by levels of the virus in wastewater, as opposed to formal testing.
“Any time there’s a big surge, you’ll see more false negatives simply because you’re seeing more infections,” he said.
Relatively new Omicron subvariant BA.5—the most transmissible and immune-evasive yet—comprised more than 80% of U.S. cases last week, according to data released Tuesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While BA.5 is a spinoff of “stealth Omicron” BA.2—named for its tendency to present false negatives in lab-based PCR tests—”there’s no evidence” that tests work less well for BA.5 than other variants, Ray said.
“When we sample the nose, we’re grabbing one little patch, a tiny little surface area, when the virus could definitely be replicating somewhere else in the body,” he said. “The nose is one of the portals through which the virus enters and lives, but it’s also in the mouth and could be harbored deep in the lungs.”