PCR testing for COVID-19 aims to detect individuals with a high likelihood of being infectious. However, false positive test results lead to false diagnoses, unnecessary measures and distort the overall picture of the pandemic.
The PCR test false positive results have more than one cause and productive conversations about them require the five categories discussed here to be distinguished from one another.
The operational false positive rate refers to the rate of error across the whole process. This will vary from day to day so the rate should be measured as a tendency to a mean, not taken as the minimum. Each laboratory will have its own operational false positive rate and this can change over time depending on the factors below.
1. Profiling errors
2. Mistaken identity
3. Contamination of the chain of evidence
4. Equipment errors
5. Burden of proof