The False-Positive Panic Over Covid-19

by Neil A. Kurtzman, MD

Imagine an articulate chief lemming bragging that not only had his followers jumped off a cliff, but that they had done so in far greater numbers than any other slice of the rodents. This is the position occupied by the US regarding testing for COVID-19.We’ve done more testing than any other country and bragged a lot about doing so; but no one seems to have survived to give a proper interpretation of the results.

To begin with, the tests currently in use do not test for the entire virus, rather they just test for various fragments of it. Many of the results are thus false, sometimes false positives and sometimes false negatives. This means one has to interpret their results with caution. Our medical authorities, to say nothing of our political ones, don’t seem to be able to do this.

All medical students are taught the basics of screening in their introductory statistics course. The problem is that most of them either didn’t go or slept through the course. The rest immediately forgot what they had learned.

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