How do COVID-19 tests really work? We found out

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS)– With thousands of Covid-19 tests happening in Michigan everyday, 6 News wanted to find out how Covid-19 test results are found.

If you’re up for a science lesson, here you go….

It all starts at a testing site. 6 News reporter Kalie Marantette went to the Sparrow site at Frandor in Lansing to get a nasal swab. After taking your name, address and other information, they ask you to lean back, relax and tilt your head back.

After that, the swab is put into a tube, label, sealed, then put into a refrigerator for a carrier to come pick up. The carrier will come take the tests, then bring it to the hospital laboratory. That’s when the process really begins.

Walid Khalife, a medical director at Sparrow laboratories explains the process to us.

First, the workers will take the sample and extract the nucleic acid, which is DNA and RNA. If the coronavirus was present, it would be in the RNA.

From there, the RNA is turned into CDNA, and then gets amplified.

“The virus, it can be amplified from one copy into billions,” said Khalife.

That way, the virus can be easily detected.

If the machine tried to amplify the virus, and it can’t, it means there is no virus and the test results would be negative for Covid-19. If it does amplify, it means the virus is there, and the test results would be positive for Covid-19.

So how do false positives happen? Khalife says there’s a lot of ways, like if a sample gets contaminated, or machines in the lab aren’t operating correctly. He says there’s many ways false negatives can happen to, like if the sample isn’t taken properly at the testing site. Khalife says don’t let that discourage you from getting tested though.

Kalie Marantette did get that Covid-19 test done Thursday and got her results back Friday afternoon, thankfully she did test negative.

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