COVID-19 surge in U.S. creating severe lack of testing options

Posted at 10:45 AM, Jan 06, 2022

As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across the country, testing options have become slim. Self-diagnosing at home has become the new norm.

Jaya Kumar is the Chief Medical Officer at Swedish Medical Center. She says the surge of the omicron variant is creating a severe lack of available tests. It affects nearly every community in the country.

“Every time we think that we’re going in the right direction, we see another surge," Kumar said. "And this omicron surge is just unprecedented and unique because it’s coming at a time when our hospitals are already understaffed, and it puts pressure on the healthcare system a lot."

Sam Dominguez is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. He points out there are two main testing options.

“We’ve had this problem all along since the start of the pandemic in terms of supply chain issues and getting the supplies that we need," Dominguez said. "And I think this time around that the issue is that really the transmissibility of this new omicron variant that so many people are getting infected and so many people are getting sick, that the demand for testing has gone up almost exponentially. The antigen testing is looking for one of the proteins that the virus is making, and the PCR testing is looking for the nucleic acid, the RNA of the virus to detect if it’s present or not.”

With appointments nearly impossible to make, many choose to take a home test. There is a variety of them with varying quality.

“There’s lots and lots of different antigen testing out there, and lots and lots of PCR tests out there, and they are not all created equally," Dominguez said.

“These are called viral tests, and the most important ones are the antigen tests," Kumar said. "The antigen tests detect a protein in your nasal secretion from the virus, and that tells you whether you have COVID or not."

There is preliminary evidence that those tests may not pick up omicron and other variants.

“The sensitivity of the antigen testing is lower than it was with the original variants and the delta variant," Kumar said.

Kumar says as more people find out their diagnosis at home, it creates an even more significant gap for underreporting.

“During this pandemic, we’ve seen that data has added a lot of value to our decision making," Kumar said.

This is why you should be submitting your diagnosis to the health department if you receive a positive result.

“We can’t let our guards down. It’s been two years, but our message is still the same," Kumar said.