Inge van der Heijden’s COVID-19 Screening Whiplash

On Saturday, news of Inge van der Heijden’s positive PCR test rapidly made its way around the cycling community. A few hours later, her next test was negative, calling into question the veracity of the positive result.

Before her possible false positive, Van der Heijden had two negative screenings. However, she later found out that she was in contact with someone who tested positive. This led her to take her next test, which turned out positive.

After her victory at 2019 Cyclocross World Championships, we were looking forward to seeing Van der Heijden’s results on the road at the Dutch national championships. However, she removed her name from the start list as a result of her positive test.

While it is unfortunate that we’ll have another year to see her go head-to-head with 2020 Strada Bianche women’s champion Annemiek van Vleuten, and new 2020 Dutch champ Anna Van der Breggen, we understand that her decision was one out of concern and protocol.

Hours after the news reached the public, we found out that her test might have been a false positive. Van der Heijden claims to have expected this from the start, doubting the accuracy of the positive PCR test.

Despite this, she still decided to follow protocol and quarantine herself and did not compete at the Dutch Championships. “However, I will not ignore the positive test and observe the quarantine measure,” she said in an Instagram post [translated].

Opinion: Events Emphasize Importance of More COVID-19 Testing

Should we remain lax just because Van der Heijden was tested negative? No.

If anything, this is a sign we should be more vigilant in our day-to-day actions. “Now it concerns [the Dutch Championships], which in my case as a cyclist is not the most important thing,” she said [translated], “I am more concerned about the upcoming [cyclocross] season when it comes to classification races, for example. When we miss one match, the classification is quickly destroyed.”

If racers, who undergo rigorous screening, are unsure of their safety, why should us normal folk feel any more confident? Most of us have yet to take PCR tests and those who have probably don’t do so regularly. And when we do get tested, results often come back days later, unless we’re fortunate to play ball in the bubble.

We also now know that the PCR test is not always accurate. It’s discomforting enough knowing that false positives are not as uncommon as we may have thought, with certain other cyclists also testing with false positive, and 77 NFL players returning likely false-positive COVID-19 tests over the weekend.

However, the threat of false negatives showing up to races is now also bigger than ever. We need the COVID-19 tests, but how certain can we be that they’re going to be accurate?

“I find it very disturbing that apparently false positive but also possibly false negative tests are being delivered regularly.” -Inge van der Heijden [translated]

This whole situation shouldn’t go in vain. While the false-positive fiasco might cause some to discount the value of testing, it should do the opposite. In reality, we need even more affordable, accessible and frequent testing with faster results, not perfectly accurate tests, to ensure all of our safety and curb the spread. World champs might get access to multiple tests and results in hours, but most of us can’t. Yet we’re all wanting schools and businesses to re-open and life to return to normal.

PCR tests may not be the answer in testing the masses. Thankfully, professional sports is already playing a major role in offering cheaper, faster options.

Van der Heijden lives in a country with a better handle on the virus, and has access to fast testing most of us don’t. Her issues with testing cost her a chance to compete for a national championship.

In the States, our testing issues are costing us not only bike races, but countless lives.