Beth Israel Deaconess researchers build tool to estimate false negative COVID-19 test rates 

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Researchers developed a mathematical model to assess the false negative rate of COVID-19 tests, according to a Feb. 22 news release. 

To build the tool, the researchers used data from more than 27,000 COVID-19 tests administered at Beth Israel Lahey Health hospital sites between March 26, 2020, and May 2, 2020. The group then used the data to demonstrate that viral loads can be dependably reported, which helps distinguish between people who are potential superspreaders, with a significant viral load, and convalescent people, who have almost no viral load. 

The team estimated the clinical sensitivity and the false negative rate for the in-house test, examining repeat test results of nearly 5,000 patients who tested positive for the virus. This let the researchers determine that the in-house test provided a false negative in about 10 percent of cases. 

To estimate the accuracy of other viral DNA test kits, the researchers based their calculations on each tests' limit of detection, which is the smallest amount of viral DNA detectable that a test will catch. Using the limit of detection standard, the team calculated that some DNA test kits available miss as many as one in three infected individuals, while another kit may miss up to 60 percent of positive cases. 

"These results are especially important as we transition from testing mostly symptomatic individuals to more regular screening across the community," BIDMC's Clinical Microbiology Laboratories Associate Director Ramy Arnaout, MD, said. "How many people will be missed — the false negative rate — depends on which test is used. With our model, we are better informed to ask how likely these people are to be infectious."


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