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At-home COVID-19 test results will not be included in case numbers dashboard

Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 8:39 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Health care experts say at-home antigen COVID-19 testing kits are creating testing more available to the public.

They say the at-home tests allow for more flexibility in testing, equity and reducing costs, but those test kit results will no longer be represented in Alaska’s database regarding active COVID-19 case numbers.

“That is a disadvantage,” said Dr. Coleman Cutchins, a clinical pharmacist testing lead at the Department of Health and Social Services. “As we move farther in time in the pandemic, I don’t think any of us believed that we were going to be, you know, monitoring all these things forever.”

According to Cutchins, all labs and tests that fall under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment, or CLIA — which ensures clinical labs are regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — were recorded in the COVID-19 database.

Now, with the transition to using more over-the-counter antigen at-home testing kits, those results will not be recorded.

“There is a change where we are not going to be collecting negatives anymore for the CLIA waives, but overall that’s the way we really looked at infection data up until this point,” Cutchins said. “... You determine the results based on the directions if you are positive or negative. Those are not being recorded to any epidemiology platform.”

Cutchins said due to this transition, the state will lose data, such as state positivity rates and case numbers in communities. Instead, he said it is presenting a new chapter in data collection as the state moves away from looking at total case numbers.

“As we have vaccines widely available, as the pandemic goes longer and longer, it becomes less important to, you know, document risk level every step of the way,” Cutchins said. “That’s actually why we slowed things down and we’re not reporting daily anymore either.”

Molecular testing, however, is still going to take place, allowing the state to be able to continue to see a small-scale trend of COVID-19 within communities.

“We’ll get those results, and know that there is a spike,” Cutchins said. “Will we know that the spike was as big as it was, when we were testing everyone that way? No, but it will still help when looking at trends and knowing how much virus is circulating.”

Cutchins said there are discussions of creating a nationwide self-reporting database for future testing, but right now it is just theory.

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