Front Public Health. 2021 May 31;9:679012. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2021.679012. eCollection 2021.
By analyzing COVID-19 sequential COVID-19 test results of patients across the United States, we herein attempt to quantify some of the observations we've made around long-term infection (and false-positive rates), as well as provide observations on the uncertainty of sampling variability and other dynamics of COVID-19 infection in the United States. Retrospective cohort study of a registry of RT-PCR testing results for all patients tested at any of the reference labs operated by Labcorp® including both positive, negative, and inconclusive results, from March 1, 2020 to January 28, 2021, including patients from all 50 states and outlying US territories. The study included 22 million patients with RT-PCR qualitative test results for SARS-CoV-2, of which 3.9 million had more than one test at Labcorp. We observed a minuscule <0.1% basal positive rate for follow up tests >115 days, which could account for false positives, long-haulers, and/or reinfection but is indistinguishable in the data. In observing repeat-testing, for patients who have a second test after a first RT-PCR, 30% across the cohort tested negative on the second test. For patients who test positive first and subsequently negative within 96 h (40% of positive test results), 18% of tests will subsequently test positive within another 96-h span. For those who first test negative and then positive within 96 h (2.3% of negative tests), 56% will test negative after a third and subsequent 96-h period. The sudden changes in RT-PCR test results for SARS-CoV-2 from this large cohort study suggest that negative test results during active infection or exposure can change rapidly within just days or hours. We also demonstrate that there does not appear to be a basal false positive rate among patients who test positive >115 days after their first RT-PCR positive test while failing to observe any evidence of widespread reinfection.