What do the terms “Sensitivity” and “Specificity” mean for COVID-19 tests?

Sensitivity is sometimes called the “true positive rate.” It measures how frequently the test is positive when the person being tested actually has the disease. For example, when a test has 80% sensitivity, the test detects 80% of patients with the disease (true positives). However, 20% of patients with the disease are not detected (false negatives) by the test.

Specificity is sometimes called the “true negative rate.” It measures how frequently the test is negative when the person being tested doesn’t have the disease. For example, when a test has 80% specificity, the test correctly reports 80% of patients without the disease as test negative (true negatives). However, 20% of patients without the disease are incorrectly identified as testing positive (false positives) by the test.

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