No, a Negative Coronavirus Test Does Not Mean You Can Safely Socialize

In the lead-up to Thanksgiving, Americans are no stranger to planning. But this year, as they prepare to let turkeys brine and pie crusts thaw, people across the country are waiting for something extra: a coronavirus test they hope can clear them to mingle with loved ones.

Many people consider a negative coronavirus test to be a ticket to freely socialize without precautions. But scientists and doctors say this is dangerously misguided. It is one precautionary measure but does not negate the need for others, like quarantining, masking and distancing.

The main reason is that a test gives information about the level of the virus at one point in time. A person could be infected but not have enough virus yet for it to register on a test. Or, a person may become infected in the hours or days after taking a test. Also, the tests do not have 100 percent accuracy.

“If you require all of your guests to email you a negative test result before your Thanksgiving dinner, it will definitely decrease the risk of an outbreak — but not completely,” said Dr. KJ Seung, chief of strategy and policy for the Covid response at Partners in Health.