Clinicians are still learning how to interpret SARS-CoV-2 testing results, the Verge reports.
It notes that no test is perfect and all come with a possibility of false positives and false negatives. For more established tests, though, clinicians are familiar with their limitations. The Verge writes, for instance, that clinicians know how to handle possible false positives on HPV tests or mammograms, as they'd likely be caught by follow-up testing. False negatives on those tests, it says, would do more harm by delaying treatment, while the reverse is true for SARS-CoV-2. In this case, a false negative could lead someone to unwittingly spread the disease, but a false positive would lead them to quarantine where they might be alone and stressed, but otherwise safe, Boston University's Catherine Klapperich tells the Verge.
The Verge adds that for other diseases, physicians could order a second test if they don't trust their first results, but due to testing shortages that isn't possible for COVID-19. "Instead, doctors and patients have to decide on the fly what to do with a single negative or positive COVID-19 test," the Verge writes. "When they have more experience with a test, they're better equipped to make those decisions."