Understanding COVID-19 Test Results

To help make better sense of COVID-19 test results, we have provided some examples of common language that various labs and testing sites are using regarding typical result statuses.

The language below is lay friendly wording that has been compiled from publicly available sources including labs, testing sites and guidance from the White House and the CDC.  

If you have questions about a specific test result, we recommend speaking with your health care provider directly.

Positive Result

A positive test result indicates that SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected, and the patient is presumably infected with the virus and presumably contagious. Laboratory test results should be considered in the clinical and community context to establish a final diagnosis and care plan. Positive results do not rule out simultaneous bacterial infection or co-infection with other viruses. Patient management decisions should be made by a healthcare provider and should follow the current CDC guidelines. The COVID-19 test has been designed to minimize the likelihood of false-positive test results, but it may not be possible to completely exclude a false positive.

Negative Result

A negative test result for this test means that SARS-CoV-2 RNA was not detected in the specimen. However, a negative result does not completely rule out COVID-19 and should not be used as the sole basis for treatment or patient management decisions. When diagnostic testing is negative, the possibility of a false negative result should be considered in the context of any recent exposure and clinical signs or symptoms that may suggest COVID-19. The possibility of a false negative result should especially be considered if COVID-19 is clinically likely and diagnostic tests for other causes of illness (e.g., other respiratory illness) are negative. If COVID-19 is still suspected, re-testing should be considered by healthcare providers in consultation with public health authorities.

Invalid / Inconclusive Result

In rare cases, a sample will fail internal controls and the result will be Invalid. In this situation, we suggest recollection of the sample if clinically indicated. Some labs refer to an “inconclusive” result or “indeterminate” result. In each case, the lab is unable to reliably determine a result for the specimen due to the inconsistent amplification of all of the required SARS-CoV-2 components from the specimen submitted.