At-home COVID testing may skew state's data as many cases go unreported, experts say

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- With the upcoming holiday, many people are relying on at-home COVID-19 tests but whose tracking the number of positive cases from those tests?

Ben Juang was planning to go to Toronto for the holidays but omicron changed his mind.

"We were just concerned that it wouldn't be a good idea," said Juang.

Juang is vaccinated and boosted, still he's been regularly testing himself for COVID at home.

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The demand for COVID-19 testing has surged as President Biden is making 500 million free rapid tests available to Americans next month.



"I have three left," said Juang holding up three at-home test kits.

He's not alone.

"At-home testing is really the way of the future," said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, UCSF professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist.

Dr. Chin-Hong says at-home tests are reliable, but as more and more people rely on them, it could skew California's COVID-19 case positivity rate.

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"It's like seeing the tree fall in the forest and nobody knows but you," said Dr. Chin-Hong.

John Swartzberg is a professor and infectious disease specialist at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health. He says more than a number, California's positive case rate translates to critical COVID-related decisions.

"We make a lot of our public health recommendations based upon how many cases are out there," said Swartzberg.

"So knowing how many cases are occurring gives us early warning for what's going to be happening to our hospitals in a couple of weeks, and what's going to be happening to people's lives maybe in about a month," he continued.

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Chin-Hong recommends contacting three groups of people if you test positive; your employer, your school or child's school and your primary care provider or health care professional.

"I think if you think about these three groups of people you'll be all set," said Chin-Hong.

"I actually haven't thought about it," said Juang.

For his part, Juang says if he were to get a positive result he'd probably take a PCR test next for medical confirmation, which ultimately would be reported.

A new consideration for anyone testing at home, as California continues to fight the spread of COVID-19.

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