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The Appropriate Use of Testing for COVID-19

Abstract

Many public officials are calling for increased testing for the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and some governments have taken extraordinary measures to increase the availability of testing. However, little has been published about the sensitivity and specificity of the reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) nasopharyngeal swabs that are commonly used for testing. This narrative review evaluates the literature regarding the accuracy of these tests, and makes recommendations based on this literature. In brief, a negative RT-PCR nasopharyngeal swab test is insufficient to rule out COVID-19. Thus, over-reliance on the results of the test may be dangerous, and the push for widespread testing may be overstated.

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