Health expert shares concerns about how rapid tests are reported in Georgia

ATLANTA — Millions of rapid tests for COVID-19 will be heading to Georgia soon and the first shipment has already arrived.

Rapid results could make up as much as 6% of the state’s positive COVID-19 cases but this can’t be known for sure. As these tests get smaller and more widespread, some experts say that’s not good enough.

Channel 2′s Matt Johnson found out how big a role the tests could play in finding out who has COVID-19 in the state.

Derrick Ogilvie says when he’s out in public, he thinks the safest thing to do is assume everyone has the virus.

“The problem is, with this, is you don’t know. You don’t totally know," the Atlanta resident said. His concern is the state isn’t officially counting everyone who may actually have the virus.

“We want to make sure we have the clearest picture possible and the most information possible. So we know what to do," he said.

In all, three million COVID-19 rapid tests are headed to Georgia by the end of the year. Gov. Brian Kemp posted these pictures to show the first shipment of the Abbott BinaxNOW tests is already here.

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But what happens if you take a rapid test and test positive? You won’t be counted as part of Georgia’s confirmed cases. You’ll be listed as a “probable case.”

“We’re the last southern state to not be doing this,” said Dr. Amber Schmidtke, a public health microbiologist.

Schmidtke said rapid tests sometimes give false negatives which affect reliability, but she said they’re pretty good at figuring out who’s positive.

“It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why we wouldn’t include the probable cases in the overall case total, if the test is that good at identifying positives,” she said.

A positive rapid antigen result is grouped with cases where someone is exposed and showing symptoms but isn’t tested. It also includes cases where a death certificate lists COVID-19 as a cause or contributor of death.

There are more than 21,000 probable cases in Georgia right now — most from rapid testing. Georgia is one of 19 states not including the results in the overall count.

“We’re really not seeing an apples to apples comparison for Georgia, if we’re not also including those probable cases,” Schmidtke said.

The health department said it is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that state a confirmed case is someone who took the traditional “PCR” test.

Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey said Wednesday that rapid results will be featured on the DPH website soon - but as probable.

“You’ll be seeing those added not as part of the total positives but as a separate probable case category,” Toomey said.

But the latest White House coronavirus task force report recommended to Georgia that the “antigen positive results must be reported with both the number of positive results, and the total tests conducted. These must be reported as COVID cases.”

Professor Harry Heiman at Georgia State University said there’s another way to show the data.

“We should report these not as ‘probable’ but as ‘positive.’ But distinguish them from the PCR test, which we know is really the gold standard and much more reliable,” Heiman said.

Rapid tests may soon help isolate people faster and get us closer to normal. But some worry that something will still be missing without a change.

“These tests are no good whatsoever if nobody knows the result,” Ogilvie said.

What are the biggest issues in getting these rapid test results to state health officials? Toomey said it’s technical issues.

The state is working to get rapid results automatically sent back to the Department of Public Health. Right now, some clinics are having to sort results by hand and report it that way.