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Doctors: A negative COVID-19 test is not an all clear to see family this holiday

COVID-19 test lines long leading up to Thanksgiving
Posted at 5:15 PM, Nov 18, 2020

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — COVID-19 test sites on both sides of the bay continue to be slammed with just over a week until Thanksgiving. On Wednesday, people waited more than an hour and a half in line to get tested for the virus.

Yet, doctors warn a negative test should not be a determining factor in if it’s safe to see family members and friends this holiday.

That’s because it can take up to four to five days after you’re exposed to the virus for the levels to be high enough in your system for the test to come back positive.

“It’s kind of a snapshot in time. You can get tested right before you leave and then go to an airport and get exposed and by the time you get to your family, you could be infected. Then, by the time you’re leaving, you could be infecting your family members as well,” Dr. Thomas Unnasch with USF Health explained.

Dr. Charles Lockwood at USF’s College of Medicine also says the rapid, antigen test may not detect the virus in your system 5+ days after you contract the virus but while you are still infectious. Lockwood recommends getting tested around 72 hours before you hope to see friends and family.

“If you’re planning to have somebody over to your house and you’re tested and you’re negative the day before that’s much better than if it was a week before,” he explained.

Health experts say while testing is great, quarantining is better. They recommend 14 days but say if you’re visiting healthy friends and family, 7-10 days is good as well.

“It’s super helpful. You can’t get infected if you don’t come in contact with someone who was infected,” Dr. Lockwood added.

Yet, they stress quarantining means staying home completely.

“Going to the supermarket is not quarantining,” Dr. Lockwood elaborated.

Since Friday, more than 6,000 tests have been given out at Raymond James Stadium and Tropicana Field; that’s more than a thousand than the week before.

Doctors stress even with increased testing and a vaccine on the way, masks, social distancing and even an outdoor Thanksgiving meal are paramount to staying safe.

“The cavalry is coming, folks. This is all gonna be over, but we have to hold out until the cavalry gets here,” Dr. Unnasch said.

Here’s how the numbers stack up for tests being given out at Tropicana Field and Raymond James Stadium.

Tropicana Field – Pinellas County

Total tests from Friday, November 13 through Tuesday, November 17: 3,051

  • Friday, November 13 – 743 rapid tests, 169 PCR tests
  • Saturday, November 14 – 825 rapid tests, 173 PCR tests
  • Sunday, November 15 – closed
  • Monday, November 16 – closed
  • Tuesday, November 17 – 918 rapid tests, 223 PCR tests

Raymond James Stadium - Hillsborough County

Total tests from Friday, November 13 through Tuesday, November 17: 3,037

  • Friday, November 13 – 952 rapid tests, 78 PCR tests
  • Saturday, November 14 – 961 rapid tests, 97 PCR tests
  • Sunday, November 15 – closed
  • Monday, November 16 – closed
  • Tuesday, November 17 – 932 rapid tests, 17 PCR tests