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VERIFY: Viral post about how asymptomatic patients spread COVID-19 lacks context

Dr. Michael Chang with UT Health said while true, the picture lacks some context.

HOUSTON — There is a post spreading online that is getting a lot of attention. It portrays how easily someone can get COVID-19 and spread it without having symptoms. Someone asked the VERIFY team to fact check it.

The illustration shows a little girl named Sally who was exposed to COVID-19 and tested negative five days later. Thinking she was in the clear, Sally went to school and a family cookout. Two days later, she started having symptoms and tested positive, potentially exposing the 17 people she came in contact with 48 hours earlier.

The timeline has been recreated using different characters and has been shared on Facebook hundreds of times.

RP asked us to verify, “Is this true?”

Our source for this is Dr. Michael Chang, Assistant Professor and Specialist in Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UT Heath McGovern.

“I think the way it's displayed is a little bit alarmist, but at the same time it is accurate,” Dr. Chang said.

Dr. Chang said while true, the picture lacks some context.

“Can this happen? Yes, but it's not very common. I don’t want people to think this is happening all the time where people getting negative tests and then becoming positive afterwards,” Dr. Chang said.

Dr. Chang says there is a such thing as getting tested too soon. The CDC explains a negative test result could mean the virus was not present when the specimen was collected, but it does not rule out COVID-19.

“That's why the CDC recommends that if you do want to get tested, if you can wait to day five or seven to get tested, that should improve the performance of the test,” Dr. Chang said.

Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse told the VERIFY team a negative test result while no symptoms are present is not reliable. It is a message he has been struggling to get people to understand. Bottom line, if you have been exposed to someone with the virus, you should quarantine for 14 days.