EL PASO, Texas (KTSM)–As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, local officials and health experts continually urge the public to avoid large family gatherings outside a household. Doctors say that even with a negative test, that doesn’t always mean a person is clear of the virus.
Chief of Infectious Diseases at Texas Tech University Health and Sciences Center of El Paso, Dr. Armando Meza, said that when someone gets exposed to the time they are no longer contagious, the virus could incubate at different rates.
“It really depends on which stage of the infection you’re at that your test can come back negative or positive,” Meza said.
According to the CDC, the incubation period for COVID-19 can extend through days with a median of 4-5 days from exposure to when patients start developing symptoms.
“The incubation period of 14 days means that you may still have no symptoms for two weeks before you know, and then it’s too late, so you want to be careful,” Meza said.
For example, a person can be exposed on Day 1. On Day 5, they get a negative test result, so they think it’s safe to gather with friends or family on Thanksgiving on Day 8 since exposure, but not realize they are contagious at the time. By Day 10, they feel sick, show symptoms, get a positive test result, and spread the virus to others they interacted with during the incubation period.
“Under ideal circumstances, you will have to have tested at least twice during this 5-6 time period,” Meza said. However, since not many people can get tested so often, he said it’s best to keep a safe distance from others and continue to wear a face mask when going out.
“So if you’re going to be in a large gathering which is now 10 people or more, you’re really taking a very high risk of becoming infected,” Dr. Meza said.
He said in the future, at-home self-testing or widespread rapid testing will help resolve this issue, but with the current technology, Dr. Meza said people need to follow the safety guidelines and just stay home if they can.