COVID test results: Does a faint line mean you’re positive?

If you take a rapid home COVID-19 test and the line appears very faintly, does that mean you have COVID? Here’s what we know.

Line definition: The short answer is yes.

  • Omai Garner, associate clinical professor and director of clinical microbiology at UCLA Health, told the “Today” show that the line shows the presence of “targeted viral proteins.”
  • Any sort of line on a COVID-19 test, even if it’s barely visible, could mean you have COVID-19 and are contagious.
  • When tested, COVID-19 proteins adhere to the line and show banding, said Dr. Amy Mathers, associate professor of medicine and pathology and associate director of clinical microbiology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, according to the “Today” Show.
  • If a line appears on the test, it means there are COVID-19 proteins in your nose.
  • Garner says the more viral proteins in your body, the darker the test line will be.
  • The Food and Drug Administration also states that even a faint line on a test is an indication of COVID-19.

Should you trust a home test? A previous report from the Deseret News states that a study found that home tests provide results with an accuracy of only 64%.

  • If you are unsure of the result of your home test, you can take a PCR test, which has a sensitivity of around 84%.

False negatives: The Deseret News also reports that false negative COVID-19 tests are more common than you might think.

  • If you have symptoms but still test negative, doctors say that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safe.
  • Even if you test negative, you could still be contagious — the viral load might not be strong enough to trigger the test, according to the Deseret News. It can take up to five days to test positive after exposure to the virus.

False positives: Doctors say false positive tests are very rare, occurring only at a rate of 0.05%, reports the Deseret News.

  • If your test shows an indication of a positive result, you more than likely have COVID-19.

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