SC teen receives two negative COVID-19 tests before learning she has the virus

Updated: Jun. 29, 2020 at 6:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As testing increases in South Carolina, and the percent positive rises, some are wondering about the accuracy of the tests. One Richland County dad says his daughter received two negative COVID-19 tests before learning she did, actually, have the virus.

“I don’t want people to make the same mistakes that we made,” said Brian Benenhaley. Two weeks ago Benenhaley’s wife RaNell took their 13-year-old daughter Lauren to Sandhills Pediatrics to get tested for COVID-19. The rapid antigen test came back negative after fifteen minutes, and Lauren was diagnosed with a sinus infection.

Just one day later, Lauren was feeling better, so she went to tennis camp for half a day, but not long after, her symptoms worsened. “You could hear the congestion in her coughing. It was sort of a daily cycle to a fever that would spike in the evenings,” Benenhaley explained. Six days after receiving her first COVID-19 test, Lauren went back to Sandhills Pediatrics and received a second rapid antigen swap, which also came back negative.

“The symptoms just fit everything I was expecting coronavirus to look like, and I was worried that for whatever reason we weren’t getting an accurate nasal swab test on her,” said Dr. Alicia McFarland. McFarland ordered a blood antibody test, which is not typically used to diagnose COVID-19, but it came back positive for the virus.

“We made decisions based on the feedback that the test gave us, but inadvertently, we exposed a lot of people that we know and care about to the virus, at least potentially. Thankfully, we haven’t heard from anybody that they exhibited any symptoms,” said Benenhaley.

According to the FDA, diagnostic tests should correctly identify at least 95 percent of positive samples. However, some rapid tests have shown to have only 80 percent accuracy. The FDA says molecular testing for COVID-19 is the most accurate, but it can take longer to produce results, whereas antigen tests only take about fifteen minutes, but are less accurate.

Dr. McFarland says Sandhills Pediatrics has a four-day backlog for scheduling those molecular tests, and then it takes around four days to receive results. “At that point, they could have potentially had that information that they were positive and protected their family members and the public for that matter a little bit better. It’s always helpful to have information more quickly, and this is where the rapid antigen test can be a lot more useful,” McFarland noted.

McFarland says, for the most part, the rapid antigen tests have been accurate, and the pros outweigh the cons, but she’s urging everyone to use extra caution. “If they are sick, even with a negative test, they need to wait until those symptoms completely resolve before they interact with anybody outside of their household,” she explained.

McFarland also noted that standard procedure is to notify DHEC of patients who test positive for the virus, and then DHEC is expected to contact the patient for further guidance.

With so many new cases each day, that contact time has taken longer, and Benenhaley says it took five days for a DHEC doctor to call them.

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