According to official state figures, Connecticut has registered 3,939 positive COVID-19 tests in the past week, most in a seven-day period since early March.
In fact, experts say the true figure is greater. Maybe much bigger.
In earlier stages of the pandemic, the vast majority of positive COVID-19 results came from tests administered by physicians and then reported to the Department of Public Health. But now Connecticut residents can buy a test at a pharmacy and take it to their living room without being required to report positive results anywhere or confirm their results with a doctor.
This is good news when it comes to practical test access, but bad news when it comes to tracking results.
“We need to be aware of the data we receive and do not receive,” said Dr. David Banach, hospital epidemiologist at UConn Health. “Trust [cases] as a primary way of measuring what is circulating in society is not as useful right now. “
Official COVID-19 case numbers have always under-represented the true spread of the disease to some degree – as not everyone who becomes infected develops symptoms or seeks a test – but experts say this has become particularly true during the test era at home. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner who has advised Governor Ned Lamont during the pandemic, recently said he believes the United States is “dramatically under-counting” COVID-19 cases, especially in the Northeast.
“We probably only detect one in seven or one in eight infections,” Gottlieb told CBS. “And that’s because, a lot of people test at home. They do not present definitive PCR tests, so they will not be counted. “
This dynamic is evident when looking at the number of COVID-19 tests Connecticut has reported in recent weeks. While an increase in transmission during earlier stages of the pandemic had led to an increase in how many tests (both positive and negative) the state reports, this time has been different.
COVID-19 testing, as reported by the state, recently reached its lowest level since widespread testing began nearly two years ago, despite widespread evidence of increased transmission.
Although the Connecticut Department of Health provides one online form through which healthcare providers can report COVID-19 cases among their patients, there is no way for an ordinary person to report a positive home test. On a FAQ page published in January, DPH instructs them with COVID-19 that they do not have to report their positive result and only need to inform close contacts.
DPH spokesman Chris Boyle said on Friday that although the number of cases is less accurate than before, other measurements remain reliable.
“The data we have is still informative about what’s going on with the pandemic, especially as we focus on more serious outcomes such as hospitalizations and deaths,” Boyle said in an email.
Even with the undercount, Connecticut has seen a remarkable increase in COVID-19 cases amid the recent spread of the BA.2 omicron subvariant, from about 300 a day in late March to more than 550 a day at the moment. This is nowhere near the nearly 10,000 cases a day the state recorded during the height of its winter wave, but far more than during the really quiet days last summer.
From other measurements, the increase looks even more worrying. Connecticut’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate has risen from around 2.5% for most of March to 6.5% from Friday. Meanwhile, the number of patients admitted with COVID-19 has doubled in just the last two weeks.
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While the number of cases has been an important (though perhaps gross) measure through much of the pandemic, these measurements, as well as wastewater monitoring, now appear to more accurately convey the state’s transmission level.
“We need to look at other measurements, including hospitalizations as well as things like wastewater tracking,” Banach said. “In many ways, it will be more helpful than just looking at registered cases.”
The 14 coronavirus-related deaths Connecticut reported Thursday were the fewest in a single week since last October, before the state’s winter rise. COVID-19 deaths, which typically lag several weeks after other measurements, have fallen in recent months and have returned to pre-micron levels.
Dr. Ulysses Wu, chief epidemiologist at Hartford HealthCare, said that while hospitalizations and deaths remain the main targets of COVID-19’s impact, cases have served as a “canary in a coal mine” warning when a wave of serious illness was on the way. his way.
When most tests take place at home, the warning sign disappears.
“The home test is very important for our fight against COVID,” Wu said. “But from an epidemiological, predictive point of view, it does not help me.”
Alex Putterman can be contacted at [email protected]