I got COVID for the first time in April. Waking up on a Friday morning, I had a sneaking suspicion that my mild stuffy nose was something more insidious. A rapid home antigen test confirmed this within 30 seconds.
My friends were surprised by my positive result; it was before the current wave really took off – at least as far as they knew. Most people were lured into a false sense of security after the original Omicron strain was ripped through New York City. The numbers were low, we all thought.
What probably happened – and is still happening – was that the number of cases was higher than the official statistics indicate. Thanks to the increased availability of home testing, more and more people are finding out for themselves that they are sick. The days to get tested are dwindling.
“Right now, COVID infection rates are underreported across the country so we are actually getting falsely low infection numbers. As such, public health officials could feel they have COVID under control when they are not, and be misled in their planning and recommendation,” said Dr. Michael Blaivas, chief medical officer at Anavasi Diagnostics.
Accurate case counts help people make informed decisions about their health. They are also vital for community leaders, hospitals and more.
“As infections increase, the government may need to allocate additional resources for COVID care in hospitals and clinics, and may need to take other steps such as B. asking people to go back to wearing masks,” Blaivas said. “Staff at your local hospital can be affected by falsely low numbers, and if a lot of people are getting sick, they may not have the staff to take care of everyone.”
“COVID infection rates are underreported across the country so we are actually getting falsely low infection numbers. Therefore, health authorities could feel that COVID is under control when it is not.”
– dr Michael Blaivas, chief medical officer at Anavasi Diagnostics
If we are to live long in a world with COVID – as so many experts have noted – we need to know when we are experiencing surges.
“Until recently and the advent of home testing, essentially all testing was reported to the CDC and various states. Politicians and health officials knew very quickly when COVID was exploding and when it was getting under control,” Blaivas said, noting that inaccurate reporting of cases could mean hospitals are not equipped to handle serious illness and ICU admissions.
“Do you also remember all the shortages of masks, sanitizers and medicines at the beginning of COVID?” Blaivas continued. “If authorities don’t know the infection numbers, they can’t work to stockpile or at least ensure availability when people get really sick in large numbers. That puts everyone in danger.”
Finally, accurate case numbers allow researchers to prepare for future treatments and preventive measures. I am vaccinated and refreshed and probably contracted the subvariant omicron BA.2 as it is now the dominant strain. Luckily my case wasn’t serious because of my vaccine. This is useful information for scientists.
“Positive test results provide us with valuable information on how vaccines hold up against different variants,” said Dr. Vivek Cherian, a Chicago-based internist. “Ultimately, all of this information can be compiled and inform the final recommendations and guidance from health professionals.”
How to report your positive COVID test at home
Depending on where you live, there are several options available to you for filing your case. The first, most logical step would be to call your GP and let them know.
“Your doctor may find it advisable to intervene with some of the available treatment options, [which] may depend on your overall health or immunization status,” Cherian said.
But Blaivas said you can’t always assume your doctor will report your case to the city or state if they didn’t do the test themselves. Many rapid at-home tests come with an app that allows you to receive or report your test result by scanning a QR code printed on the test.
“In some cases you need to contact your health department,” Blaivas added. “This can call them, or for some states you can go to the state health website and report COVID infection by filling out their online forms.”
The stressful and unfortunate reality is that we are in a wave of COVID – and it certainly won’t be the last. Accurate numbers help us know when we’re approaching a rise and encourage us to take extra precautions to protect ourselves and others.
At-home testing is a great public health tool, but it will not be used optimally if the case is not logged. Make sure you do this along with taking care of yourself.
Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is known or available at the time of publication, but guidance is subject to change as scientists learn more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up-to-date recommendations.