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'It's really hard for us to tell': Testing changes make it harder for health officials to track pandemic

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Posted at 9:33 PM, Jun 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-07 00:07:34-04

WACO, Texas — COVID-19 cases are slowly rising across Texas once again but health experts believe the exact numbers are being under-reported.

The uncertainty comes as the popularity and access of at-home testing kits increases, and new variants make it more difficult to test for the virus.

"A lot of people are testing at home now," Waco-McLennan County Public Health director LaShonda Malrey-Horne told 25 News on Monday. "It's really hard for us to tell if our numbers are exactly accurate or not."

Since the omicron surge, which peaked in January, cases have stayed to a minimum. In recent weeks, however, the number of confirmed positive cases is rising once again. The state is nearing an average of 5,000 new confirmed cases per day, a number not seen since February of this year.

In McLennan County, case counts remain low but health leaders are cautious.

"The numbers are still low enough where we're not super concerned yet, but we are paying very close attention," Malrey-Horne said.

Amy Mersiovsky, chair of the nursing department at Texas A&M Central Texas said without a full picture of the current scope of the virus, it becomes more difficult to plan ahead.

"It kind of makes it hard for our health institutions to ramp up for a large influx, etc., to know how much antibody to have on hand, how many treatments to have on hand," she said.

Another concern of Mersiovsky's is the current lack of access to in-person testing, as many free testing sites have shut down since the omicron surge.

"Many people who are under-insured or uninsured may not be being tested at all," Mersiovsky said.

Adding to the dilemma, some infectious disease specialists are raising concerns about the accuracy of at-home tests for new variants. Some believe it may take longer for at-home tests to display a positive result.

In response to these concerns, health officials are reminding people to stay home if they have COVID-like symptoms and ask people to report their at-home test results to a healthcare provider.