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The “false positive paradox” and the risks of testing asymptomatic people for COVID-19
  • Tam Hunt,
  • Blaine Williams,
  • Daniel Howard
Tam Hunt
Univ. of California, Santa Barbara
Author Profile
Blaine Williams
Kaiser Permanente Oahu
Daniel Howard
Independent Researcher

Abstract

Widespread screening of asymptomatic people leads to high numbers of false positives when background prevalence is low, even with accurate tests. During the Covid-19 pandemic, not only has the background prevalence been low (vaccine clinical trial baseline testing finds 0.5-0.6% even during periods of higher prevalence), but the various COVID-19 tests are not very accurate. When inaccurate tests are combined with a low background prevalence, this results in a massive and unacknowledged problem of far more false positive test results than true positive test results, leading also to inaccurate characterization of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.