All US testing sites are required by law to report their positive and negative results to public health officials. According to state health officials, many rapid tests are not reported, which means some new Covid-19 infections may not be counted.
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And the situation could get worse, experts say. The federal government is supplying more than 100 million of the latest rapid tests to states for use in public schools, assisted living centers, and other new testing locations.
“Schools are certainly not able to report these tests,” said Dr. Jeffrey Engel of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “If it’s done at all, it will likely be paper based, very slow and incomplete.”
At the beginning of the outbreak, almost all US testing relied on genetic testing, which could only be developed in high-tech laboratories. Even under the best of circumstances, people had to wait around two to three days to see results.
Experts pushed for more rapid on-site tests that could be done in doctors’ offices, clinics and other facilities to quickly find infected people, quarantine them and stop the spread.
Cheaper 15-minute tests that detect viral proteins called antigens on a nasal swab became available in the summer. The first versions still had to be processed with portable reading devices. Abbott Laboratories’ millions of new tests now being conducted in States are even easier to use: they’re about the size of a credit card and can be developed with a few drops of chemical solution.
Federal health officials say roughly half of the country’s daily testing capacity is now made up of rapid tests.
Large hospitals and laboratories electronically share their results with government health departments, but there is no standardized way to report the rapid tests that are often done elsewhere. And state officials have often been unable to keep track of where these tests are being sent and whether results are being reported.