HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — The omicron variant is causing a record number of COVID-19 cases. It has also caused a big increase in the number of people taking COVID-19 tests.
As most people are aware there are two different types of COVID-19 tests. A PCR test is 100% accurate in detecting and antigen tests that are not as accurate but get results faster.
Before rapid at-home tests were so widespread, counties were receiving information from test providers that reported both positive and negative test results.
“Then we started having problems that only positive tests were being reported,” said Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County Health Authority. “We had no idea what the denominator was. So, we had a thousand people testing positive, out of how many. So, it was hard to see what the incidence rate was.”
The person who gives the test has the duty to report the results to health officials. But at home testing can make that difficult to do.
So, the reported number of cases might not be fully accurate. Both counties report hundreds of positive cases a day, but the numbers could be higher.
Cameron County Health Authority Dr. James Castillo said there are thousands of tests taken daily in the county and “the positivity rate… is running in the 30-40% range.”
At home rapid tests allow people to find out quickly if they have COVID or not. Since PCR tests are tested in a lab, they are a better gauge of how many cases there are.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said the positivity rate for molecular tests – PCR tests – is around 35%. Melendez said that number was similar in Hidalgo County.
“Legitimate, gold-standard tests prove that about a third of people are testing positive for omicron. That’s a testament to how infectious this is,” he said.
In Hidalgo and Cameron County, for every 100 tests that are reported, 30 were positive for COVID. Health officials say an at-home test is better than nothing.
“We’re missing a lot of those cases,” Castillo said about at-home rapid tests. “But the more important thing is that that person tested themselves and they’re taking action based on that test. Reporting is great for a scorecard, but what we care about is results.”