NC to begin adding rapid antigen COVID tests to daily counts this month

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The state will begin releasing the count of rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 later this month, a Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman told CBS 17 News.

A recent survey by the Kaiser Health Network found that North Carolina is one of 22 states that either don’t report those antigen test results or don’t count positives from those quick-turnaround tests.

DHHS spokeswoman Amy Adams Ellis says that during the past three months, the agency has used results from antigen tests for contact tracing but so far has not included those figures in the case counts.

But the agency is updating its public-facing data dashboard to include those figures, and that should happen by the end of September, she said.

Antigen positive cases account for 2 percent of all cases reported to public health, Adams Ellis said. With more than 195,000 lab-confirmed cases already reported and accounted for, that would work out to about 3,900 positives from antigen cases.

There are two main types of tests that can tell a person if he has COVID-19: Molecular-based PCR tests, which detect the virus’ genetic material and frequently sent to a laboratory for processing with results taking several days, and the antigen tests that only need minutes to detect certain proteins in the virus.

Antigen tests have grown more popular because they are cheaper and faster than PCR tests — which in North Carolina have an average turnaround time of two days over the past month, according to DHHS — but failing to count them could lead to an artificially low number of cases. 

A drop in infection rate could more accurately reflect increased numbers of uncounted antigen tests and not a slowing of the spread of the coronavirus.

The Mayo Clinic says that while antigen tests are considered “very accurate,” there is an increased risk of a false negative.

Ellis says DHHS has required laboratories and healthcare providers to report the results of antigen tests since they became available in the state in June.

But those tests are being performed “in a wide range of locations and facilities” and some of them have not had to report test results to public health agencies, she said.

“DHHS has been conducting outreach to labs and healthcare providers across the state over the past couple of months to ensure we are receiving these results from all locations and that the information we post will be a good reflection of antigen testing that is happening across the state,” Adams Ellis said.

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