COVID-19 testing will become ‘unreliable’ for detecting spread, NC health official warns

North Carolina news

RALEIGH N.C. (WNCN) – Saying that looking at the number of lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 will become “increasingly unreliable” for measuring the spread of the disease, state epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore outlined additional ways health officials will monitor it.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Dr. Moore compared ongoing surveillance of the novel coronavirus to the ways the state typically tracks the flu.

“I think the bad news, we have to acknowledge that we’re just at the beginning,” he said.

He said the state will use what’s known as “syndromic surveillance,” which looks at patients’ symptoms.

The state utilizes the Influenza-Like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet), which is “a network of clinical sites across the country, including in North Carolina, that is coordinated by CDC.”

Some of the metrics the state will use include: reports of patients with flu-like illness, the number of emergency department visits based symptoms, hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and deaths attributed to the disease.

Moore noted physicians are now required to report to the state when a patient dies due to COVID-19.

The CDC and the state are now advising that not all people who think they’ve contracted COVID-19 need to get tested. While the World Health Organization is encouraging as much testing as possible to better track and isolate people who are sick, there’s a shortage of both supplies to conduct those tests as well as medical equipment that health care providers use to safely conduct those tests.

Moore said state health officials are “recognizing that availability of testing and testing criteria are going to change. This just gives us more of a stable set of specimens and a stable way of looking across the state.”

Moore noted that the state is seeing a reduction in the number of flu cases, which will help with dealing with the anticipated surge of patients at hospitals due to COVID-19.

Though independent experts have released projections on when they anticipate the surge to occur in North Carolina, Dr. Moore said the state is still gathering data and plans to release that information “soon.”

Robert Seligson, CEO of the North Carolina Medical Society, noted it could take two to three weeks to see the impact of steps the state is taking, such as instituting the stay-at-home order that begins Monday, on the number of COVID-19 cases.

“Any effort taken will help, hopefully, ‘flatten the curve.’ That’s what this is about, and so that the healthcare facilities aren’t overrun with cases and that they have the resources to take care of people that they’re taking care of now and those that will be coming in later,” said Seligson.

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