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: Why COVID-19 home tests could limit the U.S.’s ability to track new cases

The majority of people in the U.S. who are testing positive for the coronavirus right now likely aren’t being included in official case counts, and that means our understanding of current — or future — waves of the virus is weaker than it’s been in the past. For the week ending May 7, there were…

The majority of Americans who test positive for coronavirus are not being included in official case count. This means that our knowledge of current and future waves of the virus are weaker than ever before.

For the week ending May 7, there were an estimated two positive COVID-19 laboratory tests for every five positive at-home tests, which largely go unreported.

The crowdsourced data comes from Outbreaks Near Me, a site that gathers voluntary information from individuals to identify COVID-19 hot spots through a partnership with Momentive
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SurveyMonkey is owned by this company.

“A few weeks ago, there was a shift where more people were testing positive for the at-home testing than any other testing combined,” Dr. John Brownstein said, who is an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and chief innovation officer. His laboratory at the hospital is responsible for Outbreaks Near Me. )

The widespread availability of at home tests has been a positive thing for Americans. Ever since the start of this year, when the Biden administration made at-home COVID-19 tests available free to American households, they’ve become part of our everyday lives. Near pharmacy checkout lines, binaxNow boxes and FlowFlex boxes are stacked. Insurance will reimburse a certain number of tests. There are fewer people who have to wait in long lines or for days to receive a result from PCR tests.

But there are downsides to these tests. There is no way to easily report the results to local or state government. This data is not often included in official case totals, which are used for calculating positivity rates and can be used as an indicator of how much virus is in a community.

“The more people use these tests, it will create a further gap between what the public health can respond to and what actually is happening on the ground,” Brownstein stated.


The number of new COVID-19 cases in New England is rising, though many of those infections are not being included on official case counts because they were detected using at-home tests. Source: Momentive and OutbreaksNearMe

A new wave?

The number of new infections in the U.S. has doubled over the past month due to the spread of BA.2 and BA.2. 12.1 — both subvariants of omicron. The U.S. reported about 161,000 new cases on Wednesday, the largest number of new daily infections over the past three months and largely driven by an increase in cases in the Northeast, according to the New York Times case tracker. We’re likely in the midst a large surge,” stated Dr. Michael Mina of Harvard University, who is the chief science officer at eMed. eMed connects at-home testing with telehealth services. “We’re seeing right now rates that are higher than any other time in the pandemic, with the exception of during the very, very, very peak of omicron.”

The U.S. first saw a signal in wastewater surveillance that COVID-19 cases were rising around mid-March. Then the number of new infections begin to climb around mid-to-late March. Hospitalizations, which tend to lag cases, recently began ticking up and have increased 20% over the last two weeks, according to the Times tracker. Death rates, which usually tail hospitalizations by a few weeks, are still low, with about 320 new deaths being reported every day.

Mina has been a long-time advocate of at-home testing in the wake of the pandemic. However, there are now two issues with at-home testing.

Not only are these results not included in official case counts but people who test positive for the virus may not know what to do next. They may wait to seek care until it’s time to be hospitalized or miss the window to be prescribed the antiviral Paxlovid, which s

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