State doctor addresses COVID-19 testing and quarantine period

Coronavirus New Mexico

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – Some people worried they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 are rushing to get tested. However, the state Health Department says just because someone tests negative once, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily in the clear.

The Center for Disease Control says the incubation period for COVID-19 ranges from two to 14 days, meaning it could take a while for signs or symptoms of the virus to be detected. “The tests that we do just determines whether the virus material is present in the nose, but it doesn’t differentiate between those who are infectious or not,” explained Dr. David Scrase, Secretary for the Human Services Department. “The trouble with the testing in folks who don’t have symptoms is that it’s only good for that one day,” he added.

Dr. Scrase explained that if someone was exposed to COVID-19, getting tested the next day may not lead to a positive test result. However, that person could test positive days later.

That’s why Dr. Scrase said it’s critical that people who believe they’ve been exposed to the virus, self-isolate, and minimize contact with others for up to two weeks. If not, things can get complicated, especially in the workplace.

When an employee at a business tests positive for example, the state deploys a ‘Rapid Response’ team. Rapid Response teams work with businesses to identify close contacts, and usually requires employers to temporarily close to test employees, disinfect the workplace, and ensure a COVID-safe plan to return.

Dr. Scrase explained solely relying on a test to return-to-work is insufficient. “Remember that there is that time frame we talked about earlier. You could just be tested, you could be negative but you are actually in the process of getting infected and being sick,” Dr. Scrase explained. “It would come out later, so the test and the quarantine period are not related to each other at all.”

To date, the state has conducted 1,000 rapid responses to businesses. “During rapid responses, Environment Department personnel inform employers that employees who have had close contact with a positive case must quarantine for 14 days. We also inform employers that initial and follow-up testing may be needed as directed by DOH,” the state’s Environment Department said.


New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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