Lack of Antigen Tests Has U.S. ‘Blind to Pandemic’

Wednesday, September 16, 2020 (Kaiser News) – More than 20 states do not publish or have incomplete data on rapid antigenic tests now considered essential to contain the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 6 million Americans. The failures leave officials and the public in the dark about the true scale of the pandemic as countless cases go unrecorded.

The gap will only widen as tens of millions of antigen tests sweep the country. Federal officials are prioritizing testing to quickly detect the spread of COVID-19 over slower but more accurate PCR tests.

Relying on fragmentary data on COVID testing has huge consequences when authorities decide to reopen schools and businesses: get back to normal too quickly and risk even more disease outbreaks. Keep people home too long and risk an even bigger economic crisis.

“Lack of information is a very dangerous thing,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, which represents public health officials. “We will be blind to the pandemic. It will be happening around us and we will have no data. “

States that do not report antigen test results or do not count positive antigens as a COVID case are California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio. , Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming, as well as the District of Columbia.

Until now, most COVID tests given in the United States have been PCR tests, which are processed in medical labs and can take days to return results. In contrast, antigen testing delivers results in minutes outside of labs, appealing to everyone from medical clinics to sports teams and universities.

Each relies on swabs to test patients. But unlike using tests performed in labs, many providers who would use antigen testing don’t have an easy way to send data electronically to public health authorities.

Since July, however, the federal government has pushed about 5 million antigen tests in nearly 14,000 nursing homes to contain outbreaks among staff members and residents. The Department of Health and Human Services also awarded a $ 760 million contract to purchase 150 million rapid antigen tests from Abbott, the Illinois-based diagnostics giant. He plans to send 750,000 of them to nursing homes starting this week, Brett Giroir, the HHS official leading the Trump administration’s testing efforts, told industry leaders September 8. Federal officials did not specify how many tests will be sent elsewhere but suggested many would go to governors to distribute as schools reopen.

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Jothi Venkat

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