- In the United States, COVID-19 cases may be undercounted because laboratory tests are most likely to be reported to health departments.
- Long waits for tests and results have led many people to opt for COVID testing at home.
- Consumers can, but are not required to, report results at home to public health.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week showed the average number of new COVID-19 cases has risen to more than 700,000 a day, up more than 200,000 from a week ago.
But let’s say that’s an understatement.
That’s because CDC case counts are often based on COVID-19 testing at testing sites, clinics, or doctors’ offices. These tests are analyzed by laboratories, which need to share the results with public health authorities to help track the virus in the region.
But current wait times to schedule tests in clinics and receive results are days, not hours. That’s partly because of the recent holidays, but also because as cases surge, people wonder if they have the virus. As a result, many opted for rapid home tests — many with 15-minute results — rather than clinic-based tests.
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Why unreported test results are a problem
Unreported test results jeopardize the accuracy and usefulness of published case counts by health departments, academic institutions, and the CDC.
“The less information there is about positivity [cases] and spread [of the virus]the less advice we can give the public,” Lori Freeman, chief executive of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told VigorTip.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said consumers can but do not have to report home testing. Marci Layton, MD, chief medical officer for the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, told VigorTip that even if they did, the at-home results would not regularly add to the health department’s case count.
“challenge [reporting your results] From a public health standpoint, tracking cases through test results is often done through verifiable results,” Layton said. “Home testing has been challenging because public health officials have been unable to verify that it was done correctly. ”
Public health experts understand that as home testing increases, they may be undercounting COVID-19 cases by relying solely on laboratory analysis tests. In many cases, they are turning to other measures to track the virus.
“We are moving towards trends such as hospitalizations and emergency room admissions, intensive care unit (ICU) and ventilator use,” Leighton said. “Because there isn’t much data on home testing, we’re missing asymptomatic and mild cases. number of severe cases,” but more severe cases are needed. ”
How to report your at-home test results
Although the accuracy is vague, most public health professionals encourage you to submit your at-home test results to your local and/or state government.
“Certainly, the public health department wants home testing data,” Dr. Michael Fraser, chief executive of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, told VigorTip. “This will help us understand how fast and where the virus is spreading. Right now, we’re making assumptions.”
Some health departments require consumers to provide home test results. For example, Summit County, Ohio, offers an online form for reporting positive home tests. So is Marin County, California. In Washington, D.C., you can report your results through the app. Still, other health departments require test-takers to call with their results.
You can find out how to contact your local health department by calling 311 and your state health department by calling 211.
Freeman recommends asking your specific health department if want to Your home test results, “so you don’t overwhelm an already busy health department.”
Depending on the home test you take, your results may be automatically sent to local health authorities, especially if the test informs you of your COVID status via the website or app.
Under FDA rules, all at-home COVID-19 antigen tests must create a mechanism for consumers to report results to the company via an app, website or phone.
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While manufacturers must report any results they receive to the health department, consumers are not required to report their results to the manufacturer. But Layton said there could be benefits to doing so. Many companies respond to positive results with updated guidance on steps to take if you test positive and precautions to take if you test negative.
“Whether you contact your health department or not [or test manufacturer] With your test message, the most important thing you can do with your test results is to follow the CDC’s guidance,” Leighton said.
CDC has shortened the isolation guidance for COVID-19 patients from 10 days to 5 days without additional testing.
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If you test positive, expect more information on what to do with home test results, especially since the FDA approved two brand new home tests in late 2021 and the White House plans to send at least 500,000 home tests later box this month.
“We hope that data collection and sharing will become more consistent as we move forward,” Freeman said.
what does this mean to you
If your home test sends you test results via a mobile app or website, they should also send the results to public health, in which case you don’t need to do anything further. Otherwise, you can find the phone number of your local health department by calling 311 and asking how to submit information.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.