According to a survey of over 20 states, the results of some kind of COVID-19 rapid test do not include their total case numbers Kaiser Health News (KHN). The federal government is sending millions of such tests across the country to keep up with the pandemic. If states do not publish the results of these tests through their health authorities, there will be a blind spot in the overall data.
The tests called antigen tests detect a small protein on the surface of the coronavirus. They usually work much faster than the tests that look for the virus itself, called PCR tests, although they may be less accurate.
According to the KHN survey, 21
At the start of the pandemic, most of the tests done in the US were PCR tests. Then the Food and Drug Administration started approving antigen testing in May, and others have started coming to market in recent months.
Still, it was not until August that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a patient with a positive antigen test should be considered a likely COVID-19 case, even without testing for symptoms. Even now, the agency’s guidelines state that PCR testing is “confirmatory” evidence of the virus, and antigen testing (because it is less accurate) is only “suspected” evidence.
Antigen testing is appealing because it can be done outside of a laboratory and can be offered in doctor’s offices or even in some schools. But that widespread distribution of tests can also make it difficult for officials to report the results to a health department. A Virginia nursing home director told KHN that if she did antigen testing, she would have to share the results on paper with health officials. Some Indiana antigen test results are faxed to health authorities.
Despite the data problems, antigen testing is becoming increasingly popular in key areas. The Department of Health and Human Services has sent millions of antigen tests to nursing homes destroyed by COVID-19, and plans to send hundreds of millions more. The tests have also been popular with colleges and universities, many of whom are battling outbreaks out of control. Failure to track the results of these tests could make it appear that cases in one area are steadily falling even when there was a spike on a college campus.
“The lack of information is a very dangerous thing,” Janet Hamilton, executive director of the State and Territorial Epidemiologists Council, told KHN. “We will be blind to the pandemic. It will happen around us and we will have no data. “