Americans now have a way to anonymously report their at-home COVID-19 test results to health officials: a new website from the National Institutes of Health announced this week. Officials hope the results collected through the new site – Makemytestcount.org – will fill some of the gap in data, as many people turned to in-home COVID-19 testing rather than laboratory tests, which were common earlier in the pandemic. were closely observed.
Federal health officials have faced calls for more than a year to put in place a mechanism to better track home testing. Last week saw a total of 2.3 million COVID-19 tests — both positive or negative — reported by laboratories to the CDC. This is the lowest level since the early months of the pandemic. Bruce Tromberg, director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, estimates that the scale of home testing is likely to “dwarf.”
Federal health officials have warned for months that publicly reported COVID tests are underreporting the spread of the virus in the community. Covid complicates many efforts that rely on case counts to measure the effectiveness of vaccines, from issuing recommendations on when Americans should wear masks.
And Tromberg, who also heads the NIH’s RADx program that led the website’s development, says the effort could be an important step in making it easier for doctors to test their patients and treat infectious diseases.
“It really is an essential companion piece to the development of at-home testing. It’s part of taking testing from the labs to the home and creating a highway that allows for reliable and accurate transmission of that information.” Tromberg said in an interview with CBS News.
The website is the latest entry in a web of behind-the-scenes infrastructure that the federal government has poured resources into developing during the pandemic, including ways to securely share such data between health officials and doctors. can go.
Some mobile apps developed by testing companies may already use this plumbing to send their results to public health systems. On the House of NIH “Say Yes!” Pilot testing.
The administration is also working on a way that the website could be incorporated into the Biden administration’s “test-to-treat” initiative for strategic preparedness and response, which will help people who test positive with COVID treatments like Pfizer’s Paxlovid. connects to.
“What if you could do a test at home, and then transmit that information to your health care provider, and then actually get your treatment done at home? You need this kind of backbone, Tromberg said.
He suggested that the Food and Drug Administration could ask test manufacturers to add the website to their boxes in hopes of increasing awareness of the new site.
“We’re hoping that the states will come on board, and advertise the QR code, and it will take off from there. So people don’t say, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know how to report my test,'” Tromberg said.
Besides whether the tests are positive or negative, the portal asks people to report their age and zip code. Other details can also be contributed, such as race and whether you have symptoms, although answering these additional questions is optional.
Tromberg said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is “very interested” in potentially releasing data collected through the site, possibly incorporating the data into its weekly update on the virus.
However, self-reported data will be an incomplete solution for scientists frustrated by the growing barriers to tracking this phase of the pandemic.
Tromberg acknowledged, not every American will be interested or know how to report their test results, and some may do so incorrectly.
“It’s just another data point. And I think it’s one of those things that’s really easy to say, ‘Well, we don’t need that.’ But the fact of the matter is, no matter how you look at it, laboratory testing is a very small understanding of the total number of people who are getting tested,” Tromberg said.
The CDC did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Officials have called for other options in search of the “ground truth” on infection with the virus. A proposal has been made for model monitoring on the United Kingdom’s approach, based on ongoing cohort studies and surveys.
“It’s notable that analysts in the UK basically don’t use case counts very much, because they have such a better source of data for their models,” said Mark Lipsitch, top predictive science officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Told. a may interview With the New England Journal of Medicine.