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Expert: Negative test does not mean clear of virus

The holidays have arrived and with this festive time of year has been a surge in the numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Rutul Dalal, medical director, infectious diseases, said UPMC provides PCR testing at the local hospitals within its system as well as the off-site facility on Brandon Avenue in the city.

The rapid test, the other main type of diagnostic test for coronavirus, is not offered.

Rapid tests, although often returning quicker results, are less accurate than PCR testing, he explained.

Plenty of the PCR tests, which entail nasal or throat swabs run through a laboratory or point-of-care settings such as a doctor’s office, are available.

Dalal noted that it’s possible the rapid test might be used should the pandemic continue to surge.

He said anyone who comes in contact with somebody who has tested positive for coronavirus should be isolated up to 14 days.

“We follow CDC guidelines,” he said. “That person should be tested. If the person is symptomatic, that person should be tested at once and not have contact with anybody.”

Is a test that comes back negative enough to clear a person to return to a work setting?

“If they are symptomatic and the test is negative I will repeat the test within 24 hours and treat that person,” Dalal said.

Someone who has contact with another person with COVID-19 but tests negative or feels healthy should still quarantine since symptoms may appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

For those who live with and may be providing direct care to someone with COVID-19 or cannot avoid direct contact with that person, the CDC strongly recommends avoiding others outside the home while that person is sick, and quarantining for 14 days after that infected person meets the criteria to end isolation.

Various scenarios constitute a person considered to have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19.

They include being within six feet of a sick person for 15 minutes or more, providing care at home to someone with COVID-19, or having a direct physical experience with an infected person such as hugging or kissing, and sharing of eating or drinking utensils.

Dalal noted at this point there exist no clear guidelines for when or if a business, school or other organization should shut down following a COVID-19 infection within its facilities.

Dalal said he was particularly concerned about Thanksgiving gatherings this year.

“That is what is really giving me sleepless nights,” he said.

He recommended avoiding large gatherings by limiting Thanksgiving celebrations to members of a particular household.

“Limit the number of people to definitely less than 10,” he said.

Wearing masks and keeping social distancing should also be part of everyone’s holiday gathering, he said.

If possible, opening windows to better maintain ventilation within homes is yet another recommendation.

Laboratory data suggests that infected people appear to be most infectious just before they develop symptoms (namely two days before they develop symptoms) and early in their illness, according to the World Health Organization.

As of Tuesday, Lycoming County reported 1,793 new cases of COVID-19.

The county is among those counties experiencing a substantial transmission of coronavirus, according to the state Department of Health.

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