More COVID-19 tests being taken at home could mean undercounting cases

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Posted at 5:52 PM, Apr 18, 2022

(WXYZ) — Now that at-home COVID-19 tests have become more commonplace, case numbers in the U.S. are higher than what’s being reported.

It’s great that Americans have access to home tests. It makes testing easy, convenient and you don’t have to wait long for the results. The downside is people don’t have to report either positive or negative results. And there are now more COVID-19 tests being performed in non-traditional settings compared to laboratories, so it’s no surprise that cases are being undercounted.

That’s why experts at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation looked into this. They’ve estimated that only 7% of positive cases in the U.S. are likely being detected and the true number of COVID-19 cases are actually 14.5 times higher.

I find this a bit concerning because people are used to looking at case numbers to see how much COVID-19 is prevalent in their community and they might let their guard down if the numbers are low.

Testing may not be a reliable metric like it has been in the past, but it’s still helpful because rising case numbers can indicate there’s a surge about to happen. That gives health officials time to act. For example, when case numbers started going up in Philadelphia, officials brought back indoor mask mandates.

I'd also like to mention that there are other metrics being tracked like hospital admissions and virus levels in wastewater. These are also good indicators of how much the virus is spreading.

What’s important here is this: If you test at home, be sure to submit results to the manufacturer. That’s usually done via an app that comes with the test. The reason behind this is simple: Manufacturers are required by the Food and Drug Administration to report test results. So, they'll be counted if you report your results.

Also, take a test even if you think you have a cold. There are people who have COVID-19 but don’t know it. That’s also another reason why case numbers are lower and why our numbers are also ticking up.

The bottom line is, be aware that case numbers are being underreported. When you see cases going up in your community, take pandemic precautions like wearing a mask, washing hands often and physically distancing to avoid getting infected.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.