How late is too late to test for COVID-19?

One of the most confusing things about COVID-19 testing for many is the timing—if you feel terrible today, why shouldn’t you test today?

Sometimes, it’s not so simple. The best time to get tested for COVID is anywhere from five to fourteen days after being exposed or noticing symptoms. Exploiting this critical window of time is the best way to guarantee an accurate test result.

When is a COVID test most effective?

How late is too late? The general consensus: two weeks after exposure.

It’s never too late to get tested in a general sense; after two weeks, however, your chances of testing negative erroneously jump significantly. For this reason, we recommend making an effort to test within this period of time.

Seroconversion is the name of the game—this is the process by which a pathogen is able to establish itself to detectable levels after first contact, complete with your own antibodies to match.

This is the well-known “waiting period” advised for those testing shortly after exposure, also known as the COVID-19 incubation period. Eventually, after a patient has recovered, these viral levels fall, even if some of the immunological resources developed against it still remain.  After this period of time has elapsed, the likelihood of a false negative skyrocket.

This, of course, is to say nothing of the nature of the COVID test itself. Testing within the CDC’s recommendations, however, renders this factor null and void, at least for the most part.

Most manufacturers adhere to this COVID-specific window of time. Waiting five days after exposure and no more than two weeks will not usually result in a false negative, especially if you choose an RT-PCR test instead of a rapid result antigen test.

What should you do if it’s too late?

It’s not always easy to recognize when you’ve been exposed. The worst-case scenario: you’re positive, asymptomatic, and your test read-out is falsely negative.

The line between normal COVID and long COVID isn’t entirely understood, but can be placed somewhere around the four-week mark. Many of the cases in this inquiry resolved themselves within the five months that followed—truly, this is the time that you stand to lose out on most in the event of a false negative that gets ahead of you.

Is it ever really too late to get tested for COVID-19?

Having COVID-19 isn’t the end of the world, but it’s important to distance yourself socially and adhere to the rest of the advice that the CDC offers for those who are contagious. Knowledge is power, but it isn’t everything. If you test negative and still feel sick, it never hurts to take it easy for a couple of days at home. Get in touch with us here for more advice on testing, timing, symptoms,

Still have questions?

Gone are the days of crowded waiting rooms, daunting hospitals, and cold exam tables. At Rume, we offer care on your terms, where and when you need it, including telemedicine, drive thrus, and popups. You’ll get quick results and trusted insights.