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Mom Insists On Being Tested



"My mother is insisting on being tested for COVID-19, yet I do not see the reason for it. She lives in her own home and hasn’t been out of the house since all this virus stuff began—not even to church, the grocery store, or on a walk around the block. The only person she sees is me, and I’m also retired and haven’t been anywhere other than to get the both of us groceries.

Neither of us is sick. No cough, no fever—we feel just fine. Mom watches a lot of news and is an avid newspaper reader. She hears and reads about testing and wants me to take her to a testing site. I think it’s a silly request, and might put her at greater risk. What do you think?"



It’s nice to hear that your mother is taking her risk seriously. Since you’re both retired, I’m guessing your mom is quite elderly and therefore understands that her risk is fairly significant should she contract COVID-19, as the mortality rate for the very old is unacceptably high. She’s right to be concerned.

Now, about testing—she would need to go to a testing site, which itself poses some risk to her. She would find out if she has COVID-19, which seems highly unlikely based on the info of social distancing you have provided. If neither of you have been exposed (to the best of your knowledge), and you have no symptoms, being tested will just confirm what you already know about not having the virus.

There are situations in which testing to find out if you are an asymptomatic carrier of the virus is useful. For instance, many nursing homes are testing all residents and employees. Considering the number of vulnerable folks in one building with staff coming in from the community, testing them is a good idea. Still, it will only tell the nursing homes if someone has COVID-19 on the day of testing. It says nothing about what could happen in the future. They need to test regularly to keep current on their risk and the need to isolate.

You and your mother seem to be doing a wonderful job isolating yourselves and minimizing your risk. I recommend that you continue to practice social distancing. If you must go in public, wear a mask, stay away from others and carefully wash your hands before touching your face.

Testing for your mother is not protective. It will only tell her if she has COVID-19 at the time of the test. It will not tell her if she had COVID-19 previously, if she is immune to the virus, or if she’ll contract it in the future. It is important that she understands this.

You can take mom to be tested if she insists; it will tell her if she has the virus now, assuming the result is accurate. I’m not certain that it will provide her with any comfort, though. The best thing she can do is keep protecting herself as she has been, until there is a vaccine or until the virus is less prevalent.