As the omicron variant leads to a spike in COVID-19 cases, rapid tests that can be performed at home are becoming increasingly popular.
However, the tests, which can be ordered free from the federal government at COVIDtests.gov or purchased at several pharmacies, have raised questions about whether the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) counts positive results from at-home tests.
Alive compiled information from the CDC, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the Association of Public Health Laboratories and the National Association of County and City Health Officials for those trying to make sense of it.
Here’s what they discovered:
No, the CDC doesn’t count positive results from at-home COVID-19 tests. It recommends that people who get a positive result report it to their health care provider. Those providers, in most jurisdictions, are then required to report those cases to public health agencies.
“The US government cannot require the reporting of over-the-counter test results,” according to the CDC. “Moreover, because self-tests cannot be verified, the data from self-testing is unreliable for public health analysis and action. COVID-19 surveillance continues to be based on test results from laboratory-based and point-of-care testing.”
The government is working on ways for reporting self-test results to public health agencies. At the state level, certain public health agencies have already been headed in this direction by creating online portals for reporting positive results.
The Association of Public Health Laboratories has also worked to launch COVID-19 exposure notifications in many states in collaboration with Apple, Google and Microsoft. It allows people to report their positive results and notify contacts from their phone.
Tracking the results of those tests remains a challenge since local health jurisdictions aren’t “consistently and comprehensively receiving” data unless required by state or local laws,” said Lilly Kan, senior director of Infectious Disease and Informatics with the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
“Our understanding is that, across the U.S., results from at-home COVID tests are not regularly or consistently being reported to any federal agency,” she said.
While some states and local agencies are collecting data from the at-home test, that information is not included in the CDC’s official tracking data.