North Carolina isn’t tracking at-home COVID tests

North Carolina isn’t tracking at-home COVID tests

Photo: Emma Way/Axios

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So you manage to secure an at-home COVID-19 test — and then you test positive. What next?

North Carolina doesn’t require people who take at-home tests to report them to the state Department of Health and Human Services — nor does it have a protocol for collecting that data.

  • Mecklenburg County doesn’t have its own self-reporting protocols, either.
  • There’s no way to determine how many North Carolinians have taken at-home tests throughout the course of the pandemic.

The big picture: Some places like Colorado and Washington, D.C., have launched portals for patients to report positive results. This informs health officials of their status, and it allows contact tracers to reach them.

  • During a recent press conference, Gov. Cooper said it’s unclear whether public health departments could collect enough accurate information from the at-home tests “for it to be meaningful.”

Why it matters: A lack of self-reporting at-home test results means that there’s likely far more COVID-19 in North Carolina than what’s reflected in statistics like case counts and daily percent positive.

  • Public health officials have relied on these statistics when making policy decisions. For instance, Mecklenburg County has said in order to lift the mask mandate, the percent daily positive rate must be below 5% for seven consecutive days.

Those data points are important because they help inform public health officials on where trends like hospitalization are headed, says Dr. Susan Kansagra, acting senior deputy director for the Division of Public Health.

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“There are going to be more cases out there than are reflective in our data,” Kansagra tells Axios. “What we’re really interested in is our hospitalization data. That’s our key focus right now.”

By the numbers: There are 3,293 COVID-19 patients in the hospital in North Carolina as of Jan. 5, according to the NCDHHS. That’s up from 1,322 a month prior.

  • Statewide, 30.1% of COVID-19 tests taken currently turn up positive, per NCDHHS’s latest count,

The bottom line: North Carolina health officials don’t include at-home test results in their official metrics. But if you test positive, you should still follow the current CDC guidance and isolate yourself for five days (then wear a mask for five days after that), Kansagra says.

  • Your odds of getting seriously ill with COVID are much lower, she adds, if you get a vaccine and booster.

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