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False negative case? El Paso man hospitalized for several days with symptoms tests negative for virus

David Alvarez
David Alvarez
David Alvarez, 47, took a selfie while being treated for symptoms similar to COVID-19 in early April.

EL PASO, Texas -- David Alvarez had visited a doctor twice about a cough and breathing trouble.

He tested negative for the flu, was given medication for an upper respiratory infection, and was also tested for Covid-19.

"The breathing is the scariest. It wakes me up because I can't breathe," he said. "It feels like you just got a belt and squeezed your chest and tightened it up so you can't expand."

Alvarez survived soft tissue sarcoma in 2006, "And this one has been worse than the cancer."

Alvarez, 47, learned his Covid-19 test results were negative. But his symptoms persisted.

"I didn't even last a day or two and then I went to the ER," Alvarez told ABC-7 in an interview, adding that he went to The Hospitals of Providence East on April 5.

"They said, 'You're negative — but your symptoms are everything that they're showing when you have it, (when) it's positive. So, we're not going to go based on the test, we're going to take care of you,'" he said, adding, "They're calling it a 'false negative.'"

His official diagnosis says he suffered acute respiratory failure with hypoxia -- or lack of oxygen.

The hospital discharge paperwork stated, quote, "Given his symptoms … he was screened for Covid-19. Results here were negative. 30% of Covid-19 test have been falsely negative."

The hospital paperwork didn't source that "false negative" data but online publications, from The New York Times to, are sourcing research published February in China, which states the various and most readily available testing methods are only 53 to 89 percent effective at detecting the virus.

ABC-7 asked the El Paso Public Health Department whether it is seeing a trend of 30 percent false negative Covid-19 tests.

Dr. Hector Ocaranza, the El Paso City-County Public Health Authority, admitted they've seen at least one case where the test came back negative, the patient got worse, got re-tested and still came back negative.

Dr. Ocaranza stated in an email, "…when hospitals have patients with Covid-19 symptoms, regardless of whether a test is positive or negative, they are going to take appropriate steps to take care of the patient and themselves. We continue to be vigilant of false negatives and with rapid testing this may hold true at a higher rate."

Dr. Ocaranza took the opportunity to stress the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus. "Everyone in our community is susceptible and will be infected, if not now, later on."

Dr. Ocaranza also said there are many factors that could lead to false negatives, and the outcome depends on the way the sample was taken, the site of the testing, or how the sample was transported.

"Regardless of the test, if they are symptomatic they need to stay home so they don't infect other people," Dr. Ocaranza said, adding, "If one person in the household is positive and/or are symptomatic, everyone in the same household needs to stay home and assume they are exposed and infected."

Meantime, Alvarez is recovering at home and following orders to isolate. He is quarantined in a home office while his wife and adult children continue to keep their distance. He hopes people continue social distancing for the health and safety of themselves and for the city's doctors and nurses caring for those infected with Covid-19.

"People (who) are not paying attention to what's going on and not staying home, they don't understand how much work that whole hospital is putting in — from security, to the nurses, the techs, everybody — and it's a lot of work that they're going through right now," he said. "If you just stay home and let this pass, and do our part, it will be a lot easier because if we lose our doctors and nurses, who's gonna take care of us?"

Coronavirus Video / El Paso / News / Top Stories / Video

Stephanie Valle

Stephanie Valle co-anchors ABC-7 at 5, 6 and 10 weeknights.


1 Comment

  1. This is what happened to my mom!! She tested negative twice but yet had all symptoms, including her oxygen got as low as low as mid 80’s and she couldn’t breathe. The testing is just being done wrong and the numbers are being masked for whatever reason.

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