CDC coronavirus test tracking could hide pandemic's scope, Johns Hopkins expert says

The CDC's method of tracking COVID-19 testing could be misleading based on its practice of combining data from two different types of tests, NPR reported on May 21.

For its coronavirus testing tracker, the agency combines results of genetic tests that spot individuals who are actively infected using the polymerase chain reaction process with the results from patients who undergo serology testing that looks for antibodies in the blood. The serology testing identifies people who previously had COVID-19.

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo said adding the tests together makes it appear active testing is more prevalent than it actually is. She said combining the test isn't appropriate because they are measuring two different things and "could leave governments and businesses with a false picture of the true scope of the pandemic."

Combining both test results may also reduce the number of overall reported positive test results for a lower "positivity rate," which is the measure used to identify whether a region has enough testing. "The goal for tracking testing is to understand whether we are casting a wide enough net to identify cases and only viral tests can tell us that," said Ms. Nuzzo.

A CDC spokesperson said that the majority of the data is PCR testing but that the national numbers include some serology testing because states are including that in their numbers.

The CDC aims to break down the testing to distinguish between PCR and serology testing in the future.

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