More people have likely tested positive for COVID-19 than daily coronavirus reports indicate, since many public health agencies do not count at-home test results.
SAN ANTONIO — As the omicron coronavirus variant drives case counts to record-highs, more people in southwestern Texas have likely tested positive for COVID-19 than public health reports indicate.
Some positive COVID-19 tests may not be counted in Bexar and Comal counties, since neither public health authority includes at-home test results in its data.
At-home COVID-19 swabs have become a preferred testing option, especially for the asymptomatic.
Demand has outpaced supply, leaving pharmacy shelves empty almost as soon as they’re stocked. To locate swabs, some use online inventory-tracking bots previously reserved for hard-to-find Christmas gifts.
Still, public health agencies typically cannot capture these results unless a user reports the outcome themselves.
Hays County created a portal for self-reporting Monday, though it will not count submissions toward its total. The form is “just another tool in the toolbox” for epidemiologists, county spokesperson Kim Hilsenbeck said.
Bexar and Comal County don’t accept self-reported results, which they say are difficult to verify.
“With our clinics, we have established relationships and we have trust with them,” said Jennifer Whiddon, Comal’s public health communications specialist. “With someone that may call and say they’re ‘so-and-so’ and have these test results, we really have no proof they are that person.”
Doctors note that trends, not exact numbers, should dictate public health decisions. Even with missing information, the latest case-count patterns indicate rapid spread.
Whiddon says more test-makers should invest in technology that allows people who test at home to report their results in a verifiable manner.
“I hope that the creators of the test kits have some type of process where the person that purchased it can return it to the city, and therefore verify it through that,” she said.
Some users may seek a more accurate PCR test at a clinic after testing positive at home, which would ensure their results are counted correctly.
Missing test results would also impact percent positivity, since negative results results also go unreported.
Until test-makers release sales figures, it will be difficult to estimate how many tests have not been counted.