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COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise again in the United States as the country— a once unthinkable number of lives lost to the virus. including BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, have become more contagious and continue to drive the global pandemic.
In this phase of the pandemic, more people are testing for COVID-19 at home, thanks to greater availability of rapid home tests.. And many people also experience milder symptoms, thanks to and which greatly reduces the risk of severe COVID-19 illness and the need for hospital care.
However, as more people test at home, an increasing number of COVID-19 cases are going unreported. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention itself says there is “currently limited use of self-test results data collection to inform public health surveillance,” although the agency remain confident in “situational awareness” without receiving self-test results.
Asymptomatic COVID-19 cases and home test results are some of the reasons experts believe the current case count may be a gross underestimate. This year, the CDC changed the way itin the United States to include measures such as the number of hospitalizations, health care capacity and the level of viruses in our wastewater. But knowing the number of cases in your community can still be an important tool in deciding if it’s safe to go to the movies or dine indoors.
“These rapid home tests cause us to underestimate how many people actually have COVID,” said Keri Althoff, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And therefore also underestimating the number of what we call our COVID transmission rates per 100,000 population.”
Although this is not listed in the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, the CDC encourages anyone who tests positive to report this result to their health care provider (or the public health department if you don’t have a primary care physician).
Here’s what to do if you test positive for COVID-19 at home, and an update on isolation and quarantine advice.
2 things to do if you test positive for COVID-19 at home
If you take a rapid home test and it comes back positive, assume you have COVID-19. While it’s true that rapid home tests are less sensitive than “gold standard” PCR tests (about 10% to 20% less sensitive, according to Hackensack Meridian Health), and more likely to give you a false negative result, Positive results from self-tests are “highly reliable,” according to the CDC.
“If you test negative on a home test but think you have COVID-19 because you have symptoms or have been exposed, consider testing again 24 to 48 hours later,” the CDC says. Then, after a few spaced negative tests, you will be able to feel more confident that your negative result is really negative.
There are two important steps to follow after a positive home test result.
Follow CDC guidance on isolation
Once you test positive, start following the CDC’s advice to self-isolate (stay away from others if you are sick or test positive for COVID-19).
Regardless of your vaccination status, the CDC advises staying home for at least five days, with day 0 being the day you tested positive. You should also isolate yourself from people in your home or wear a properly fitted mask if you cannot avoid others. You can end your isolation after five days, as long as yourand you have not had a fever for at least 24 hours. However, you should still wear a mask and avoid traveling for at least 10 days.
Report it to your doctor or health department
If you test positive with a COVID-19 home test, call your primary care physician, Althoff said. Not only will your doctor be able to refer you to treatments such asif you are at high risk for severe COVID-19, but in some cases your clinician will have a system in place to funnel a self-reported test result into the official COVID-19 count.
But your COVID-19 result is much less likely to show up on your state’s official tally than if you were to test positive a second time at the doctor’s office, or at a mass testing site or clinic, according to Althoff. .
“Calling your doctor and giving them this information is important for your individual health, but we shouldn’t misinterpret that into thinking that this information is now entering our surveillance systems,” she said.
Many states have made it mandatory to report COVID-19 test results, Althoff said, but those tests are usually done in a clinical setting. Information from a laboratory processing a PCR test, for example, then goes directly to the health service; they are “established systems,” she says. Even if you report a test from home to your health department, it often lacks the data necessary for an official report by the CDC. “The data element itself and the data structure are different,” Althoff said.
Still, you should call your health department or doctor to report a positive home test result. (Here’s a list of health departments in the United States.) You can also check with your county or city directly to see if they have a more direct way to report a test result. Some areas, such as Washington State, have hotlines for reporting a COVID-19 positive at home.
You may also be asked to provide additional information to the health department if you call or email them, such as your age and vaccination status.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.