Health experts: Getting tested for COVID-19 too early after exposure can lead to inaccurate results

Thanksgiving is a little more than a week away, and seven northeastern states – including New Jersey – are urging colleges and universities to test students for COVID-19 before they leave for the holiday break.
Students who test positive for the virus are being asked to isolate on campus or to coordinate a safe way to travel back home.
But for those heading home for the Thanksgiving holiday, a negative COVID-19 test prior isn’t a guarantee of safety, according to some health experts.
Dr. Raj Brahmbhatt runs Riverside Medical Group. Its 15 testing sites and urgent care centers statewide have conducted more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests since March. He says that he has seen an increase in the number of people who are seeking testing.
“People just want to be tested at this point, given the holidays and they're going to be cautiously, hopefully, around family,” Brahmbhatt says.
But he says that a negative test doesn’t guarantee safety indefinitely.
“If you have a negative test, you’re good today. Ok? However, that doesn’t mean you are good next week,” he says.
The doctor says that how accurate test results will be, depends on which test the person is given and when they have it done.
“In my opinion, it’s pretty useless to get tested between day 0 and day 3 of exposure. You should at least wait until day 5 or 6 or 7. We know day 5 is the best time to get tested,” Brahmbhatt says.
Health officials say that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is remotely. But doctors say that people who can’t or won’t stay home should keep gatherings small and to try to quarantine before and after both the holiday and the COVID-19 test.
“We can still have a happy Thanksgiving. Can still have turkey and a good holiday. Just smaller and next year, we’ll go big,” Brahmbhatt says.
The doctor says that molecular tests – PCR – are more accurate than rapid antigen tests, with lower false-negative rates. Riverside Medical Group provides both.