Why the COVID-19 positivity rate is likely higher than what’s posted

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s been a surge in COVID-19 testing, both administered at home and at testing sites across Austin, but only results from the latter are actually reported to health officials.

“There’s lines everywhere,” Point of Care Health Services Medical Director Dr. George Willeford said. “Getting tested has become a real challenge.”

Point of Care Health Services says they’ve seen a 25-30% increase in testing just between last week and this holiday week, averaging about 300 people a day.

They also say more of those tests are coming back positive — about a 10-15% increase.

Dr. Willeford says there are likely more positive cases that aren’t being reported, with the increase of at-home testing.

“The only ones that are being reported are the ones that are done in a facility. So, the number of positives may well exceed…I’m sure it does, well exceed the numbers that we’re seeing posted,” he says.

Dr. Willeford says the data factors into decision making for health leaders.

“The local health people, state people, and the national people are trying to figure out what’s the best number to help us make decisions on how aggressive we need to be in our social distancing, our masking,” he explains.

Austin Public Health’s dashboard for risk-based guidelines, for example, considers the positivity rate and community transmission as leaders decide if and when to move stages.

But Willeford says higher positive cases may not be a reason to worry, just yet– if those folks aren’t feeling sick.

“Yeah, there’s lots of positive tests out there, but there’s also a lot of positive tests in people who are not sick,” he says. “And my own personal feeling is that’s…those are two separate groups, and it makes a difference.”

That’s something health leaders said they’d be keeping an eye on, heading into the holidays.

“There may be a 7-10 day lag before they actually develop symptoms severe enough that cause them to look or seek medical care,” said Dr. Desmar Walkes, local health authority, in a briefing on Tuesday.

Dr. Willeford says if you test positive for COVID-19 using an at-home kit and you’re feeling symptoms, it may be beneficial to get tested at a facility, too. That way your case will be counted in the data that health officials use to make important decisions about masking and gathering guidelines.

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