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VERIFY: No, the CDC doesn’t count positive results from at-home COVID-19 tests

The CDC says its COVID-19 tracking is based on laboratory and on-site test results.

Rapid COVID-19 tests that can be performed at home are growing in popularity as the highly transmissible omicron variant leads to a spike in coronavirus cases. 

Americans can now order free at-home COVID-19 tests from the federal government online at COVIDtests.gov. The website went live on Tuesday, Jan. 18. People can order a total of four rapid antigen COVID-19 tests per household.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has seen record-setting numbers of COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in its latest data update on Jan. 14 that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continued to rise during the first week of January. Omicron now accounts for approximately 98% of COVID-19 cases, the public health agency said. 

VERIFY viewer Judy reached out on Facebook about whether the CDC counts positive at-home COVID-19 test results. 

THE QUESTION

Does the CDC count positive results from at-home COVID-19 tests?

THE SOURCES 

THE ANSWER 

This is false.

No, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t count positive results from at-home COVID-19 tests.

WHAT WE FOUND

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people who get a positive at-home COVID-19 test result report it to their health care provider. In most jurisdictions, health care providers who diagnose COVID-19 are required to report those cases to public health agencies.

“The US government cannot require the reporting of over-the-counter test results,” the CDC said in an emailed statement. “Moreover, because self-tests cannot be verified, the data from self-testing is unreliable for public health analysis and action. COVID-19 surveillance continues to be based on test results from laboratory-based and point-of-care testing.” 

Point-of-care testing is also known as on-site or near-patient testing. 

The federal government is actively working with self-test manufacturers to develop ways for reporting results to public health agencies, the CDC added. 

Public health agencies in certain U.S. states have created online portals for reporting positive test results. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has launched a way for people to report their positive test results online, and encourages anyone who is unable to do so to report their results to their local public health agency along with any close contacts. 

The Association of Public Health Laboratories has also worked to launch COVID-19 exposure notifications in many states through a collaboration with Apple, Google and Microsoft. That means people can report their positive test results and notify contacts from their phones. More than two dozen states have an Exposure Notification App on the National Key Server. 

It is, however, “very difficult” for local health jurisdictions to track the results of at-home COVID-19 tests because they are not “consistently and comprehensively receiving” data unless required by state or local laws, said Lilly Kan, senior director of Infectious Disease & Informatics with the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO). 

“Our understanding is that, across the U.S., results from at-home COVID tests are not regularly or consistently being reported to any federal agency,” Kan added.

So we can VERIFY that although some state and local public health agencies are collecting data from at-home COVID-19 test results, that information is not included in the CDC’s official tracking data. The CDC counts laboratory and point-of-care test results. 

More from VERIFY: You can test positive for COVID-19 on PCR tests for up to 12 weeks

   

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