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Rise in at-home testing has some concerned about underreporting cases

Jerry Tucker, with the Chesapeake Health Dept., said underreporting cases is nothing new. So, instead of tracking those at-home tests, they track severity.

CHESAPEAKE, Va. — As many states are seeing COVID-19 cases trend upwards and more people are opting for at-home tests, some health officials worry we can’t see the whole picture as cases are already trending upwards.

That’s because you aren’t required to self-report a positive result.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the number of COVID-19 tests being done in non-traditional settings, like at home, has already surpassed the number being done in labs.

But Jerry Tucker, the Chesapeake Public Health Emergency Manager, said they’ve dealt with underreporting since the beginning.

"We’re watching it. It’s always been on our radar, actually, since the beginning of the pandemic because very early on we had data lags and gaps that existed within the surveillance of our cases," Tucker said.

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, only 7% of cases are being reported. That’s the lowest since the beginning of the pandemic back in 2020.

However, Tucker said while they are tracking the upward trend, Virginia has never included at-home tests in their case count because it’s almost impossible for health departments to verify the result.

Instead, they’re tracking severity.

"In terms of impact, we’re looking at more of the burden of the disease on the population. That’s hospitalizations, inpatient bed usage, ICU bed usage and deaths," Tucker said.

For those that opt for an at-home test and test positive, Tucker encourages you to call either your doctor or local health department to report it.

"So we can open up a dialogue on an individual level between the patient and the provider regarding what the next step should be," he said.

Now, with cases already slowly ticking up across the country, health officials are also bracing for a possible outbreak as students return from spring break.

Tucker encourages those students to take a test if they’re having any symptoms.

"If it’s an at-home antigen test, they may want to look at talking with their healthcare provider and getting a more reliable PCR test," Tucker said.

As of right now, all of the seven cities remain in the low transmission category, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

You can order free at-home tests at COVIDtests.gov or through your local health department.

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