(KTXL) — One day after President Joe Biden offers more home testing as a solution to the surge of omicron COVID-19 cases, there’s some concern about what could get missed in the process.
Aside from telling an individual person if they are infected with the coronavirus, the testing system that’s been in place for most of the pandemic also has a feature that’s about collecting data.
In California, when positive tests are confirmed at approved sites, the state is able to log how many cases are in a given area and what strain they are.
It’s how state officials learned about what ethnic groups were being disproportionately impacted by the virus and where, as California first started to deal with COVID-19 almost two years ago.
The state and national health systems will lose much of that specificity if people test at home, isolate and are able to treat their case without reaching out for care.
“It’s a good idea just to keep the population safe, but we are going to lose some of our ability to track precisely the direction of the pandemic and that’s kind of what you give up in that,” explained UC Davis epidemiologist Dr. Brad Pollock.
“Getting evidence, getting data and interpreting that information is very important in what we do,” Pollock added. “By the same token, if you think about this, you don’t want to have people out and about getting other folks infected. And if there was a simple way of testing yourself in the morning before you go out and finding out you are positive, you’re going to have a big material impact on getting the pandemic snuffed out, so it’s not really a trade-off here, we have to use whatever we can.”
When home tests were first talked about during the pandemic, the vision was that there might be a smartphone interface that reported the findings to state officials. Due to the cost of such programs and the kind of tests developed, that never really happened on any widespread basis.
Marin County allows residents to self-declare results from home tests and that data gets integrated into the overall county, state and national tracking but other counties don’t do that.