I got COVID for the first time in April. When I woke up on a Friday morning, I had a sneaky suspicion my slight nasal congestion was something more insidious. Within 30 seconds, an at-home rapid antigen test confirmed it.
My friends were surprised by my positive result; it was before the current wave had really taken off ― at least, as far as they knew. Most people were lured into a false sense of security after the original omicron strain ripped through New York City. The numbers were low, or so we all thought.
What likely happened ― and is still happening ― was that case rates were higher than official stats indicated. Thanks to the improved availability of at-home tests, more people are finding out they’re sick on their own. The days of going to get tested are dwindling.
“Right now, COVID infection rates are being underreported all around the country, so we are actually getting falsely low numbers of infections. Therefore, health authorities may feel COVID is under control when it is not and be misled in their planning and recommendation making,” said Dr. Michael Blaivas, chief medical officer at Anavasi Diagnostics.
Accurate case counts help people make informed decisions about their health. They’re also vital for community leaders, hospitals and more.
“If infections are spiking, the government may need to allocate additional resources for COVID care in hospitals, clinics and potentially take other steps like asking people to wear masks again,” Blaivas said. “Staffing at your local hospital may be impacted by falsely low numbers and, if lots of people start showing up sick, they may not have the staff to care for everyone.”
“COVID infection rates are being underreported all around the country, so we are actually getting falsely low numbers of infections. Therefore, health authorities may feel COVID is under control when it is not.”
– Dr. Michael Blaivas, chief medical officer at Anavasi Diagnostics
If we’re going to live in a world with COVID for a long time ― as so many experts have stated ― we need to know when we’re experiencing surges.
“Until recently and the advent of home testing, essentially all tests were reported to the CDC and various states. Policymakers and health authorities knew very quickly when COVID was exploding and when it was getting under control,” Blaivas said, noting that an inaccurate representation of cases may mean hospitals aren’t equipped to handle serious illness and ICU admissions.
“Also, remember all of the shortages of masks, disinfectants and medications early on in COVID?” Blaivas continued. “When authorities are unaware of infection numbers, they cannot work to accumulate supplies or at least ensure availability when people start getting really sick in large numbers. That puts everyone in danger.”
Finally, accurate case numbers allow researchers to prepare future treatments and prevention measures. I’m vaccinated and boosted and likely contracted the omicron BA.2 subvariant, since it’s now the dominant strain. Thankfully, because of my vaccine, my case wasn’t serious. This is useful information for scientists.
“Positive test results help give us valuable information with regards to how vaccines are holding up against different variants,” said Dr. Vivek Cherian, a Chicago-based internal medicine physician. “Ultimately, all of this information can be put together and influence health experts’ ultimate recommendations and guidance.”
How To Report Your Positive At-Home COVID Test
There are multiple avenues you can take to log your case, depending on where you live. The first, most logical step would be calling and telling your primary doctor.
“Your doctor might find it prudent to intervene with some of the available treatment options, [which] can depend on your overall health or vaccination status,” Cherian said.
However, Blaivas said that you cannot always assume that your doctor will report your case to the city or the state if they did not run the test themselves. Many at-home rapid tests have an app associated with them, where you can receive or report your test result by scanning a QR code printed on the test.
“In some cases, you will need to reach out to your health department,” Blaivas added. “This may be calling them, or for some states, you can go to the state health website and report a COVID infection by filling out their online forms.”
The stressful and unfortunate reality is that we’re in a COVID wave ― and it certainly won’t be the last. Accurate numbers help us know when we’re approaching a surge and encourage us to take extra precautions to protect ourselves and others.
At-home tests are a great public health tool, but they’re not being used to their fullest advantage if the case isn’t logged. Make sure you do that, along with taking care of yourself.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.
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