What Should You Do If You Feel Sick but Keep Testing Negative for COVID?

COVID tests

Verywell / Amelia Manley

Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 shares similar symptoms with other respiratory infections.
  • If you're symptomatic but test negative, test again in 48 hours to confirm your results.
  • The CDC recommends waiting at least five days after your exposure to get tested.

It’s always concerning to feel unwell because symptoms like coughing or a runny nose can mean anything—seasonal allergies, the flu, or even COVID-19.

Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Verywell that it’s hard to tell respiratory infections apart without diagnostic testing because many symptoms overlap.

A negative result from a COVID-19 rapid test is usually enough to ease worries, but one test isn’t enough to rule it out. One negative result could mean that you don’t have a contagious amount of the virus at the time of testing, even if you do have COVID-19 already, Adalja said.

If you have COVID-like symptoms but test negative, it’s best to hold off from attending any gatherings in case it was a false negative result. You can then repeat the test in 48 hours to confirm your result; at-home COVID-19 test kits contain two tests inside the package for this very purpose.

If you test negative two days apart, it’s likely that your symptoms aren’t caused by COVID-19.

However, if you have symptoms and know that you were in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, it’s best to get a PCR test to be safe. Sometimes, you might just be testing too early. According to CDC guidelines, you should wait at least five days after exposure to get tested.

Irfan Hafiz, MD, an infectious diseases expert at Northwestern Medicine, told Verywell that community prevalence could help determine whether your symptoms are that of a seasonal problem.

The CDC’s flu activity map, for example, can tell you if your region has had a high rate of flu cases in the last week.

If you’re still unsure whether you have COVID, you can take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for symptom relief, Hafiz said. In the meantime, it’s best to stay home for at least five days since symptom onset and wear a mask in public through day 10.

There is currently no preventive medication for COVID-19. Experts say it’s important to receive your bivalent booster as soon as you are eligible, which provides better protection against the circulating variants.

At times of high community prevalence of COVID-19, Hafiz said it’s best to avoid overcrowded situations and wear a mask in public.

What This Means For You

If you feel sick but you test negative for COVID-19, it’s recommended that you take another test 48 hours later to ensure that you didn’t get a false negative result.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Smith RL, Gibson LL, Martinez PP, et al. Longitudinal assessment of diagnostic test performance over the course of acute SARS-CoV-2 infectionJ Infect Dis. 2021;224(6):976–982. doi:10.1093/infdis/jiab337

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Isolation and Precautions for People with COVID-19.

By Carla Delgado
Carla M. Delgado is a health and culture writer based in the Philippines.