Accuracy of COVID case counts in doubt amid growing use of at-home tests

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The growing availability of at-home COVID testing kits means people can skip long lines and get results in just minutes whereas PCR results can take days.

But the results of self-tests are rarely reported to the state ― and that’s impacting daily case counts.

“It certainly means some cases are not getting into the system,” said Dr. Tim Brown, epidemiologist and senior fellow at the East-West Center.

Brown added the case counts are also off because they don’t include many asymptomatic people who don’t get tested because they don’t know they’re infected.

Dr. Janet Berreman, the Kauai district health officer, said the state Health Department doesn’t expect complete reporting. Case counts help medical leaders with surveillance, she said, providing data to help predict and prepare ahead of rising hospitalizations.

But Berreman said allowing people to self swab is important to slow the spread of the virus ― even if the numbers are not included in count reports.

The self tests detect active virus, meaning you are infectious.

That can be helpful to take ahead of seeing kupuna.

“You can have a result in 15 minutes. You can know if you have COVID and you can isolate, tell the people you have had contact with and thereby you protect other people,” Berreman said.

The PCR tests, meanwhile, detect much smaller amounts of the virus and can give you a positive reading even before you’re infectious.

It can also give a positive reading well after a person is infectious.

“The PCR is much more sensitive,” said Brown. “It’ll pick up across a longer span of the virus but the at-home test is much better at detecting infections and that’s really what people what to use them for.”

Brown said he’d like to eventually see an app that could automatically send the at-home test result to health departments. Medical experts said for now they are getting enough data to understand the trends ― even with the influx of at-home testing kits.

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