Up to 90% of those who tested ‘positive’ for COVID-19 wrongly diagnosed

The most widely used diagnostic test for COVID-19, called a PCR test, provides a simple yes-no answer to the question of whether a patient is infected. But, a yes-no result isn’t really useful. It’s the amount of virus that should dictate the next steps for a patient infected with COVID-19.

The PCR test amplifies genetic matter from the virus in cycles; the fewer cycles required, the greater the amount of virus, or viral load, in the sample. The greater the viral load, the more likely the patient is to be contagious. This cycle threshold is never included in the results sent to doctors and coronavirus patients, although it could tell them how infectious the patients actually are.

Apoorva Mandavilli for The New York Times:

Up to 90% of those who tested 'positive' for COVID-19 wrongly diagnosedResearchers say the solution is not to test less, or to skip testing people without symptoms, as recently suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Instead, new data underscore the need for more widespread use of rapid tests, even if they are less sensitive.

“The decision not to test asymptomatic people is just really backward,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, referring to the C.D.C. recommendation. “In fact, we should be ramping up testing of all different people,” he said, “but we have to do it through whole different mechanisms.”

In what may be a step in this direction, the Trump administration announced on Thursday [August 27] that it would purchase 150 million rapid tests…

“We’ve been using one type of data for everything, and that is just plus or minus — that’s all,” Dr. Mina said. “We’re using that for clinical diagnostics, for public health, for policy decision-making… It’s really irresponsible, I think, to forgo the recognition that this is a quantitative issue.”

In three sets of testing data that include cycle thresholds, compiled by officials in Massachusetts, New York and Nevada, up to 90 percent of people testing positive carried barely any virus, a review by The Times found. On Thursday, the United States recorded 45,604 new coronavirus cases, according to a database maintained by The Times. If the rates of contagiousness in Massachusetts and New York were to apply nationwide, then perhaps only 4,500 of those people may actually need to isolate and submit to contact tracing…

Most tests set the limit at 40, a few at 37. This means that you are positive for the coronavirus if the test process required up to 40 cycles, or 37, to detect the virus. Any test with a cycle threshold above 35 is too sensitive, agreed Juliet Morrison, a virologist at the University of California, Riverside. “I’m shocked that people would think that 40 could represent a positive,” she said. A more reasonable cutoff would be 30 to 35, she added. Dr. Mina said he would set the figure at 30, or even less.

Officials at the Wadsworth Center, New York’s state lab, have access to C.T. values from tests they have processed, and analyzed their numbers at The Times‘ request. In July, the lab identified 794 positive tests, based on a threshold of 40 cycles. With a cutoff of 35, about half of those tests would no longer qualify as positive. About 70 percent would no longer be judged positive if the cycles were limited to 30.

In Massachusetts, from 85 to 90 percent of people who tested positive in July with a cycle threshold of 40 would have been deemed negative if the threshold were 30 cycles, Dr. Mina said. “I would say that none of those people should be contact-traced, not one,” he said.

MacDailyNews Take: Making decisions with bad data has long had an acronym known by computer programmers: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

Making policy decisions — including closing schools, companies, retail stores, etc. — with bad COVID test data is a recipe for garbage decisions.

We’ve even got Apple closing retail stores based, at least in part, on COVID-19 case spikes. GIGO.

Importantly, this situation can be remedied. The report notes that the F.D.A. says people may have a low viral load when they are newly infected, so a test with less sensitivity would miss these infections. But that problem is easily solved, as Dr. Mina told The Times, “Test them again, six hours later or 15 hours later or whatever,” he said. A rapid test would find these patients quickly, even if it were less sensitive, because their viral loads would quickly rise.

What’s needed is a COVID test that’s fast, cheap, and pletiful enough to frequently test everyone who needs it — even if the test is less sensitive. “It might not catch every last one of the transmitting people, but it sure will catch the most transmissible people, including the superspreaders,” Dr. Mina told The Times. “That alone would drive epidemics practically to zero.”

62 Comments

    1. Sadly, with a president who puts his own political fortunes ahead of the country, and a country full of lemmings who embrace his lies, experts are indeed sadly dismissed by people who become brainwashed by their cult leader and for some reason, don’t know any better.

      1. What are you talking about? Trump listened to “the experts” (Fauci, Birx) as demanded by the Democrats and their media lapdogs.

        It did not benefit Trump to destroy the record-breaking economy he built. Yet, he did it anyway, by listening to the so-called “experts.”

        Now that he’s finally got someone with a brain advising him, Dr. Scott Atlas, perhaps this lunacy will finally come to an end.

      2. Breaking News: All politicians are concerned with their “political fortunes.” Yours being to deny President Trump reelection.

        The article is about faulty testing that is an absolute disgrace. People are losing their jobs, homes and businesses in states and cities the
        most egregious controlled by Democrat politicians looking out for their “political fortunes” at the expense and welfare of their citizens.

        Typical political hypocrite, you don’t have a problem with your own party…

      3. So says John the Baptist—oops!— I mean Fascist. Another media brainwashed tool/fool who wants to worship Saul Alynski’s tactics for takeover. Too bad you were born too late; Stalin and Lenin would have welcomed you into the USSR club.

        Go study history you dope. Treasure the freedoms we enjoy and grow up.

      4. Yes Trump supporters are lemmings. But the so called scientists from the W.H.O. and the C.D.C. and Faucci and the health advisers have long since discredited themselves. Amazing that anyone with an I.Q. above a jelly doughnut would listen to them now.

  1. Oops.

    “Destroy the village to save it” – (see Cuomo, Newsom, de Blasio, Biden’s puppet masters, etc.) was always a superlatively stupid strategy.

    Policy decisions should not be made on bad/no data, childish fear, and perceived political expediency (destroy the economy to beat Trump and the GOP).

    1. Demonrats can’t win elections anymore so their only hope is to sabotage the country and try to blame Trump, but American won’t fall for that BS. That’s what illegal immigration is all about. Since American won’t vote for Ds, they have to import illegals that will.

    2. “Up to 90% of those who tested ‘positive’ for COVID-19 wrongly diagnosed” is not a factual statement.

      Believing a conspiracy (that saving lives in a pandemic is for the purpose of beating trump) shows how far people have been lured into a cult that eschews fact.

      Just compare the US with other countries that have successfully handled the pandemic, because they are saving lives and their economy, not because they are trying to “beat trump.”

      1. Don’t confuse these folks with facts, John. The headline is flatly wrong. 100% of those with a positive result are correctly diagnosed as having a novel coronavirus infection. The point these two virologists are raising is that the virus loading on many of those people is too low for them to be infectious to others through casual contact. The doctors themselves differ on what would be a more appropriate threshold.

        They do not suggest that the remedy for this issue is less testing, but MORE testing, particularly for those who are asymptomatic. Someone with a low virus loading may be coming down, or they may equally be going up towards becoming infectious. There is no way to know unless the person is tested more than once using a test that provides rapid results. More frequent testing with a less sensitive test is better than using a more sensitive test less frequently. Testing that only provides results after the patient is no longer contagious is of no use at all. That has been embarrassingly common in America.

        About 50% of all symptomatic cases (including those who are hospitalized or die) caught the virus from somebody who was asymptomatic at the time of infection. So every reasonable expert—including these two virologists—agrees that identifying and isolating infectious asymptomatic individuals is the only way to control the pandemic. That requires lots more testing, not the politically-dictated less testing.

        The number of non infectious asymptomatic individuals is an interesting statistic, but it is completely irrelevant to how many people are being hospitalized or die.

            1. Who said I was for Trump, you cheese eating surrender monkey! AC is a one care. Or Wang care. Same diff.

            2. Listen up Morticia,
              I will say this to you and anyone reading.

              All tests are a snapshot in time. Even taking your temperature.

              PCR is the most reliable, by far, test of indicating exposure. Exposure is not active disease, but if exposed one should definitely quarantine and monitor.

  2. “Up to 90% of those who tested ‘positive’ for COVID-19 wrongly diagnosed” is not in any way a factual statement, not based on that article, not based on facts.

    It’s mystifying how the pandemic has become politicized, particularly in the United States, with a need to deny it, downplay it, perceive it as an overreaction.

    Stepping back, it’s mystifying how easily people either don’t care or aren’t able to identify “facts.”

      1. What I find mystifying is that so many people (including the headline writer) can read this article without seeing it as what it is, a call for more coronavirus testing rather than less, and for stronger contact-tracing and quarantine protocols, rather than a surrender to political expediency.

        1. “a call for more coronavirus testing rather than less”

          You failed to mention what is the purpose of more testing if the thresholds vary widely and results not calculated correctly which is an absolute disgrace. Comparing Apples to oranges does not get it done.

          Please try to keep up with the core issue of article…

          1. That WAS the core issue of the article. Doing lots more testing with less sensitive (but comensurable) tests that provide quick results was the whole point of the article.

        2. You wonder why it’s happening – why so many people embrace the lies of a con man, and see the world through the prism of his self-serving political ambitions.

          Why is it that people are unable to read the article for what it is, unable to understand the concept of “fact,” unable to separate science from politics?

          You see it in history, when a charismatic strongman cons a significant portion of a population and figure that could never happen here.

          And yet here we are, living through it.

  3. Over 85 million PCR tests have been conducted in the U.S. since the wild COVID-19 overreaction began. At around $150 each, that’s $12.75 billion thrown away.

    Now factor in all of the the wasted hours, inconvenience and closure-induced business failures. Unemployment. Mental health issues. Suicide.

    Now add in the trillions spent and to be spent on stimulus. All of it in debt.

    Over 6 million Americans who got back a positive COVID-19 test result were likely filled with anxiety (even though the fact is that virtually all of them will survive the China Flu with nary a sniffle). But, according to the Times, most of them – and maybe even the vast majority – likely had only traces of the virus that were too minute and harmless to even classify as a COVID-19 infection.

    According to the experts The Times consulted, procedures universally applied caused 90% of the positive diagnoses in one randomly selected set of tests to be bogus.

    Universities are canceling all in-person classes for thousands of students for at least two weeks because a handful of them tested “positive” for COVID-19 on these meaningless yes-no tests.

    Businesses far and wide, including Apple, are closing up shop based on this testing data.

    DEMOCRATS insistence on slowing down COVID’s spread by any means necessary is presented by the media as the only thing that matters. “Follow the science.” Hah!

    To the DEMOCRAT PARTY, inflicting collateral hardship, misery, and death on the American people doesn’t even register as a priority. Nor, of course, does respecting our constitutional rights.

    1. I’m sure you have no idea how far you’ve been brainwashed by a president who has foisted misinformation and lies on you for his own political gain, and you eat it up.

      In no other developed country do people believe an actual pandemic is a political conspiracy.

      It’s really bizarre how a charismatic cult leader can exert such influence over his minions.

      Amazing.

      I’m not a democrat but I’m not part of the cult, sorry.

      1. You sound like you need some help, so I’ll lay it out for your more plainly:

        Nobody sane believes COVID-19 is a political conspiracy. The wild overreaction to COVID-19 in Democrat-led U.S. states where lockdowns and restrictions never end (based on faulty testing data) is the political conspiracy.

        1. In San Fran, only 46% of businesses have survived the Governor Nuisance lockdowns. Don’t forget, he is Nasty Nancy “blowdry” Pelosi’s nephew. They work in tandem for the coming stranglehold by their party; just like they accomplished in California. Ask me how I know—I’ve lived here for 6 decades.

  4. Wow – one article quoting a few doctors or scientists and you’re willing to risk people’s lives.
    Health policies and strategies on diseases are based about a preponderance of medical and scientific data. False positives are always better than false negatives especially in a pandemic. In a pandemic every false negative enables the virus to spread to other people. A false positive can be identified with repeat testing. The only correct statement is that testing needs to be increased and turnaround time reduced.

    1. The issue in this article isn’t even false positives. It is correct positives for coronavirus that are triggered by virus loads that are too low for the person to be casually infectious at the time of the test. A significant number of those individuals are either declining from a formerly infectious virus load or rising towards such a load. As you say, the lesson is to test more frequently with rapid results. It is not that the existing test results are bogus.

  5. Making a pandemic a political issue instead of one about public health is moronic. Furthermore, what the hell is this even doing on “MacDailyNews”?

    But since it is: This “information” is just another pathetic, sad denial attempt in the face of cold, hard reality. Compare the US disaster to every other G7 country. The US is still sitting at 40,000 new cases/day and over 1,000 deaths/day. Those numbers don’t change if you decide you don’t like the definition of a covid “diagnosis”.

    So, this misdirection is just that, a useless distraction and a lame attempt to further a political agenda. It’s irrelevant because we still have people dying in the US at a daily rate that exceeds World War Ii by a factor of 4, and we’re coming up on 200,000 dead. Maybe we should redefine “death” since we don’t like reality?

    Instead of making this a political issue, we should just follow the same public health steps being used successfully EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD.

    And I don’t really come to MDN to read this sort of thing. I’d encourage you to stick to what the site is supposedly for.

    1. DUMMY: what the hell is this even doing on “MacDailyNews”?

      MDN:

      Making decisions with bad data has long had an acronym known by computer programmers: GIGO (garbage in, garbage out).

      Making policy decisions — including closing schools, companies, retail stores, etc. — with bad COVID test data is a recipe for garbage decisions.

      We’ve even got Apple closing retail stores based, at least in part, on COVID-19 case spikes. GIGO.

      DUMMY: The US is still sitting at 40,000 new cases/day and over 1,000 deaths/day. Those numbers don’t change if you decide you don’t like the definition of a covid “diagnosis”.

      Actually, DUMMY, that’s precisely what happens. Your vaunted number of “cases” (which you love because you think it hurts Trump) change quite noticeably (as in: decrease significantly).

      DUMMY: We’re coming up on 200,000 dead. Maybe we should redefine “death” since we don’t like reality?

      Well, since we’ve redefined virtually every death as a COVID-19 death (any positive COVID-19 test of a recently deceased person is listed as a COVID-19 death), we’ve already disembarked from reality many months ago.

      In the U.S. all people who died that tested positive for COVID-19 are counted as a COVID-19 death (including homicide, overdose, suicide, car accident, or disease with clear exclusion of COVID-19 illness). Obviously, to those of us who can reason and think logically, this method identifies people who had the virus, but fails to tell us whether COVID-19 caused their death.

      DUMMY: I don’t really come to MDN to read this sort of thing. I’d encourage you to stick to what the site is supposedly for.

      Sounds like a (weak) threat provoked by fear of actual truth about the COVID-19 sham being disseminated. By the way, this report is in The New York Times, hardly a bastion for right-wing thought.

      It’s okay, if you leave and never come back. Those of us with IQs above 85 won’t miss you.

      1. Facts aren’t republican or democrat. They’re facts.

        It’s amazing how a pathological liar who doesn’t embrace facts, and places his own political fortune above the country’s interest, can so easily persuade so many people, who can so easily input “garbage in” and get “garbage out.”

        Despite the science and the facts, the scientists and the experts, the doctors and the front line workers, the global response vs the US response, you know better, because your cult leader has told you so. Garbage in, garbage out.

        In no other country is a global pandemic perceived as a political hoax, with a charismatic liar at the helm able to so easily disseminate garbage in, garbage out.

        Amazing.

      2. For starters, you need to look up “ad hominem” attack. If you have nothing to rebut an argument, attack the messenger; it’s a classic logical fallacy.

        Second, the all caps DUMMY is as sad as Chump’s pathetic nicknames for anyone who disagrees with him. What are you, in 3rd grade?

        Mainly, it is just sad to see this public health issue made into a political one. The NUMBERS are inarguable, especially if you compare with the rest of the world. Get your head out of Faux Noise and get some information.

        http://91-divoc.com/pages/covid-visualization/

        1. Chuckles,

          The NUMBERS are wrong, not inarguable. The case NUMBERS are based on amplifying detritus into COVID-19 positives, adding to your case NUMBERS. The death NUMBERS are amplified by counting every death where a person had a “positive” COVID-19 test (over-amplified to hit a “positive” result) regardless of the actual cause of death (i.e., a car accident victim is tested postmortem, amplified 40 times, found “positive” and recorded as a “COVID-19 death.”)

          You obviously do not understand the issues here.

            1. Where, exactly, have I “grossly misrepresented” the facts?

              A. The case numbers are based on amplifying detritus into COVID-19 positives, adding to greatly inflated case numbers.

              B. The death numbers are amplified by counting every death where a person had a “positive” COVID-19 test (again, over-amplified to hit a “positive” result) regardless of the actual cause of death (i.e., a car accident victim is tested postmortem, amplified 40 times, found “positive” and recorded as a “COVID-19 death.”)

              While you work on those (and fail), here’s something enjoyable for the rest of us starting at 42:45:

            2. TxUser you are lying again and in serious DENIAL.

              First Then has consistently posted detailed and factual information posts. You simply don’t like it because it does not fit your narrative in your hatred for President Trump, we get that.

              I love your blanket denials you seem to be posting more and more lately because you simply can’t handle objective truth…

            3. He has not filed “detailed and factual information posts.” He has stated opinions that are not backed up by evidence and that disagree with the conclusions of almost every qualified expert in the field. Just today, he has cited the NYT article for propositions that the virologists at its heart specifically argue against.

              I am posting more blanket denials because you and your ilk simply ignore the detailed facts and authorities I have posted. You are flooding the public square with so much disinformation that it is impossible to keep up. It’s like fighting a forest fire with a hand extinguisher.

              That is the goal, of course. Your aim is to tell so many lies that the public will stop caring about the truth. You don’t need them to agree with you, just to get so exhausted that they stop resisting. It worked in 1917 and 1933, so why not now?

            4. Good to read you are losing it TxUser, by accusing others of what you and your ilk have been doing all along — right out of “Rules for Radicals” playbook. But it won’t work, we have facts on our side while you engage in spin and opinion.

              “He has not filed “detailed and factual information posts.”

              Like what specifically? Noticed you did not answer FirstThen, because you cannot disprove anything and he certainly won’t let you get away with it.

              “He has stated opinions that are not backed up by evidence”

              You have perfectly described your own posts, mainly opinion. But OK, name one specifically. Whenever you are ready.

              “that disagree with the conclusions of almost every qualified expert in the field.”

              Almost every expert, OK name one expert and specifically what they disagree with. Again, whenever you are ready.

              You simply can’t handle this new revelation from of all places, the left leaning NYT how badly testing has been applied and lack of even standards leading to FALSE NUMBERS that rocked your world and have shown the number of cases is not close to the truth…

    2. Chuck questions, with apparent frustration and disgust, “what the hell is this even doing on “MacDailyNews” and then proceeds to get his own foot into the ring to show HE KNOWS how to sum it all up. After depositing, he then returns to correcting MDN.

      Nice Chuck, nice….I like how you did that.

  6. Clearly someone needs to investigate why the CDC recommended that COVID testing labs use 40 amplification cycles on samples.

    Why PCR testing is even still being used to generate data that keeps the country in a state of panic when they’re clearly worthless is another thing that obviously needs to be looked into seriously.

    But a more basic question is why PCR tests were being hyped as “the gold standard” for COVID-19 detection before any testing was done to verify that claim when they don’t even detect the virus.

    The American people have been frightened into surrendering their most basic liberties based on a test that both Anthony Fauci and CDC director Robert Redfield had to know there was no reason to think was at all reliable.

    And once the research showed that the test is likely falsely diagnosing millions of Americans who don’t have COVID-19 with the virus, still nothing was done to end its use.

    We’re talking about perhaps the greatest political scandal in all of history. And it’s about time someone found out what those responsible were trying to accomplish and make sure that, whatever it is, their efforts are punished.

    Way too much damage was inflicted and way too many lies were told to let this pass. — Michael Thau

    1. Like most of the posters above, you apparently read the article without understanding it. These two virologists are not saying that PCF tests are identifying people who do not have the virus. That is a complete misrepresentation.

      They are saying that the tests identify infected people whose virus load is not high enough at the time of the test to pass the virus casually to somebody else. That does not mean that they did not have earlier, or will not have later, a load high enough to be infectious or even symptomatic. Virus loads are constantly moving up or down, and there is no way to determine which with a single test. They are not minimizing the pandemic, but calling for more testing with rapid-result tests in order to control it.

      1. By the way, in the interest of actual facts, in the U.S., ~10,000 have died from COVID-19 (note that I did not type “with COVID-19,” but “from”) – the remainder of the so-called, misclassified “COVID-19 deaths” had significant comorbidity.

        History will not be kind to the COVID-19 cheerleaders, pimps, and charlatans (Cuomo, Newsom, di Blasio, etc.).

        1. Who, besides you, gives a flying flip about their comorbidities? They did not die of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or old age. They would still be alive if they had not contracted COVID-19. It killed them, not the factors that made them more susceptible.

          If you shoot a hemophiliac who bleeds to death, hemophilia will be listed on the death certificate as a contributing factor, but the cause of death will be listed as gunshot, the manner of death as homicide, and you will be charged and convicted of murder.

          As should all those who are intentionally facilitating the spread of the virus because it mostly kills people they regard as undeserving of life.

          1. I guess you missed the story about the motorcyclist in a bad accident in Florida who died of his wounds and the cause for death was recorded from C-19.

            Guess you also missed if you were sick in a nursing home with pre-existing conditions and transferred to a hospital deaths were recorded as C-19, not calculated as nursing home death. That would be in New York State.

            Just two of thousands of examples…

            1. Two completely fictitious examples.

              I guess you didn’t hear that the notorious “motorcyclist” was only listed as a tentative COVID-19 fatality because the accident was under investigation. If the fatal accident was caused because the driver was sick, it would have remained on the list, and properly so. When the investigation refuted that possibility, the cause of death was changed after just a couple of days.

              There is no category of “nursing home deaths.” Every death certificate has to list a specific cause of death. Preexisting conditions that would not have caused the person to die when he did are not listed as “cause of death” but as “other factors.” If the person died when suffering from coronavirus, and would not have died except for that infection, then coronavirus is the cause of death. That is true whether the deceased was 5 or 95, in an institution or at home, fat or thin, diabetic or not, etc. Those other factors made the person more or less susceptible, but they were not why he died.

              That is so simple that anybody who isn’t caught up in a crazy conspiracy theory ought to understand.

            2. I only saw the initial motorcyclist story and full disclosure did not follow up. So at the time it was not “fictitious” simply a snapshot in time. But point taken and good to read the record was corrected.

              “There is no category of “nursing home deaths.” Depends on the state.

              In New York national news stories have reported the number of nursing home deaths is not available, imagine that. When the president sent the hospital ship to NY harbor with 1,000 beds:

              “Only 20 patients had been transferred to the ship, officials said, even as New York hospitals struggled to find space for the thousands infected with the coronavirus. Another Navy hospital ship, the U.S.N.S. Mercy, docked in Los Angeles, has had a total of 15 patients, officials said.
              “If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,”

              — NYT

              So where did NY politicos find space? Small token numbers on the ship and Javits Center the mayor and governor chose instead to put politics over lives at risk by sending infected C-19 patients to nursing homes. Could it be the reason numbers of deaths are not available?

              To clarify another point, other national news stories reported some cities and states transferred Covid patients from nursing homes to hospitals for care and no matter the length of stay in the hospital as opposed to the length of stay in the nursing home — when they passed in a day, week or more they were not officially counted as a nursing home death. Accounting technique that certainly alters the numbers and broadens the scope of the pandemic while skirting specific reporting on nursing home deaths.

              Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania nursing home deaths are updated and reported daily by the Secretary of Health. The number of deaths varies from 65% to over 70% of all Covid deaths in the state depending on the day and fluctuating numbers.

              So PA is not afraid of reporting specific and detailed numbers while the big bad tough talk NY politicians are simply not up to the task.

              Lastly, yes the cause of death listed on certificates is technically correct as Covid. That said, my sister works in ER and my special female friend works in a nursing home. They have witnessed patients slowly dying from cancer and other serious illnesses over a long period of time, yet one day contracted Covid by contact with someone in the facility.

              Technically listed as a Covid death, it just doesn’t seem right and tell the entire story as in some cases virus played a small part…

  7. I wonder if the author should have use “ineffectively” instead of “incorrectly?” This is because the test in question used only one test. The conclusion states that two tests should be used, the second after a few hours to compare an increase or decrease in the amt. of viruses detected in each test. Comparative analysis seems the key to producing an effective, hence a more correct, test. Two tests would provide the quantity of increase. It does not give the rate of increase; Three or more would give a good upward or downward curve. But is testing more than once practical among uncompensated slaves who are the most vulnerable?
    Perhaps an Apple app can provide a method.

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