GAO Report

Federal COVID-19 Testing Data Collection Effort Has Been Ineffective

The federal government has done a poor job of collecting and reporting COVID-19 testing data to the CDC since the pandemic began. That’s the conclusion of a U.S. Government and Accountability Office (GAO) report published on June 24, citing issues of accuracy, reliability and consistency resulting “in limited information on the spread of COVID-19 in communities.”

Under the current model, the CDC gets testing data from state and local public health authorities that collect the information from testing labs. But labs didn’t start reporting that data until the end of March. And the data they did report was limited to testing results, not counting testing done at the point of care.

The GAO also says that the data which has been reported is inconsistent. Reasons:

  • Labs haven’t been counting tests the same way.
  • When states didn’t report data for a specific day, the CDC has been collecting and reporting the testing data from websites aggregating the data. Problem: Some state websites count the number of people tested and others count the number of samples tested, which could be different.
  • The CDC reported states’ testing data as viral load testing without recognizing that some states also include antibody tests in their data in their report.

These issues have “made it more difficult to track and know the infection rate, mitigate the effect of infections, and inform decisions on reopening communities,” according to the report.

Takeaway

 The new HHS rules requiring labs to report COVID-19 testing data by August 1 are an attempt to fix the problems cited by the GAO and ensure the steady flow of comprehensive and consistent data for use in infection monitoring, prevention and reopening.

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