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Coronavirus Update: Mayo Researchers Highlight The Risk Posed By False Negatives

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Researchers at the Mayo Clinic are warning about the impact false negative test results can have amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including the possibility of spawning a "second wave" of cases.

In a study published this week, researchers at the esteemed hospital cautioned public officials against relying too heavily on the current testing technology, noting that its characteristics haven't been reported consistently in the medical literature.

Even if the current tests were correct 90% of the time, there would still be a significant number of false negatives given the number of people expected to contract the virus in the U.S. This outcome is something that officials should consider when making public health decisions, the researchers say.

Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic and co-author of the study, said officials should expect a "less visible second wave of infection" from people who got false negatives and continued to spread the virus.

Another risk researchers highlighted was health care workers getting false negatives. In such cases, they would likely return to routine care and perhaps spread the disease.

In response to the threat posed by false negatives, the researchers advise that test results should be viewed cautiously, especially for people in high-risk groups. At the Mayo Clinic, the current testing technology is only one factor in deciding if a patient has COVID-19.

The researchers also say that the current tests, known as RT-PCR tests, need to be improved and paired with antibody tests to reduce the threat posed by false negatives. The Mayo Clinic is preparing to work with antibody tests in a couple weeks.

In Minnesota, the number of positive COVID-19 cases reach 1,242 on Thursday. However, experts have long said that these lab-confirmed figures are likely much lower than the actual number of COVID-19 cases in the state, as testing has not been widely available.

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