How are at-home COVID test results impacting overall case numbers?

Impact is likely fairly significant

With new case numbers only being reported once a week, as well as the growth in at-home testing that usually goes unreported. The question becomes how useful is it to follow the 7-day moving average, or even the weekly cases? People want to know how big of an impact at-home testing is having on the numbers. It’s probably fairly significant. It’s been estimated by the Department of Health and Human Services that the number of at-home tests done every day is somewhere around two to four times the number of tests done in labs. Many of them are negative, but when they are positive, the mechanism to report the results are very weak. But there are plans to improve it.

With new case numbers only being reported once a week, as well as the growth in at-home testing that usually goes unreported. The question becomes how useful is it to follow the 7-day moving average, or even the weekly cases?

People want to know how big of an impact at-home testing is having on the numbers. And the impact is probably fairly significant.

It’s been estimated by the Department of Health and Human Services that the number of at-home tests done every day is somewhere around two to four times the number of tests done in labs. Many of them are negative, but when they are positive, the mechanism to report the results are very weak. But there are plans to improve it.

Read: Michigan will scale down COVID data reporting frequency as cases drop

Concerns lack of reporting will lead to undercount of COVID cases

The National Institutes of Health along with the Association of Public Health Laboratories are working to streamline the reporting of COVID-19 tests as more people use at-home tests.

Public health experts are concerned that the lack of reporting of those at-home results will leading to an undercount of the true number of COVID cases in the U.S.

The NIH and the APHL have teamed up to improve the reporting of COVID test results between at-home test manufacturers and public health authorities.

The approach still relies on people who use at-home tests to self-report their results to manufacturers, but APHL officials hope their system will make the process more efficient.

Read: CDC extends travel mask requirement to May 3 as COVID rises

Study finds digital app helps reporting

A pilot study, launched in March of last year and partially done in Michigan, found the use of a digital app was feasible for reporting. But there were still barriers, particularly because at-home antigen tests are not as accurate as PCR testing done in a lab.

While the study found people were comfortable uploading the results of their test, either positive of negative, a significant number of users preferred to remain anonymous when sharing their results.

Importance of new case numbers overall

I don’t know what’s behind that decision, but my opinion is that in the big picture, we are becoming less focused on new daily case numbers and there’s nothing wrong with that. Routinely barraging the public with numbers isn’t necessarily helpful at this point and only feeds into anxiety.

My only caveat is that someone at the state or local level should constantly monitor the numbers and if concerning change occurs, whether it’s in new cases or hospitalizations, people need to be made aware so they can adjust their behaviors.


Read: Complete Michigan COVID coverage



About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.