(NEW YORK) — Tens of thousands of Americans have reported a COVID-19 test result to the National Institutes of Health’s website that launched in November.
The site, MakeMyTestCount.org, allows people to anonymously report the results of any brand of at-home COVID-19 test.
In updated data exclusively provided to ABC News, 24,000 people have reported a test result to the site. Additionally, three-fourths of the results are a positive test and women were more likely to report a test result than men.
“I think there’s a greater number of people who are testing for COVID at this time than are being reported on this website. So, this is just sort of a small raindrop in a huge storm,” Dr. Sarah Elisabeth Waldman, an associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at UC Davis Medical Center, told ABC News.
When asked about the discrepancy in women- and men-reporting levels, “I don’t think it’s specific to COVID. I think this is more specific to women in general, having higher rates of self-reporting on voluntary websites and other programs,” she added.
Public health experts said it’s great that there is a place for people to import test results and that more people are doing so than expected — but questions remain about self reported data that could give scientists a better idea of where the virus is spreading and who is most affected.
They also warned that there may be a bias in who is inclined to report test results.
“The fact that we’re seeing three out of four reported tests as positive definitely doesn’t mean that three out of four people are actually positive. Likely, it means that people are more inclined to report a positive than a negative result,” Andrew Weitz, Ph.D., a program director at the NIH and co-lead of the project, told ABC News.
But that doesn’t mean reporting of at-home test results is not beneficial to health officials. In fact, the more results that are provided, the clearer their understanding of COVID in the community is.
“The absolute numbers may or may not tell the whole story, but what I think the public health community is going to start getting a better handle on is how the trends can help us understand that story,” Dr. Krishna Juluru, a presidential innovation fellow at the NIH and co-lead of the project, told ABC News.
Experts also urged the public to report their at-home test results regardless of whether positive or negative to provide health officials with a better sense of what is going on in the community.
“Without the negatives, we don’t have a good idea of what the overall positivity rate might be, and where we’re seeing real significant increases,” Matthew Binnicker, Ph.D., director of the clinical virology laboratory at Mayo Clinic, told ABC News. “We need to be able to determine where COVID is most prevalent, where we’re experiencing a surge [and] we need to have the total number of tested including positive and negatives to really get a good sense of that.”
The NIH is also launching a pilot program in one county in Pennsylvania that will provide free COVID-19 health services entirely virtually. Up to 8,000 eligible residents are anticipated to participate in the program.
Under the program, a patient sick with COVID-19 could receive at-home rapid tests, telehealth sessions and at-home treatments like Paxlovid without leaving their house.
“It’s largely focused on a home setting, but we also allow individuals to have options so if they want to pick up a test at a local community center, after a telehealth consultation if they want to go pick up their medications at a local pharmacy, we allow that as well,” said Juluru.
Since anti-viral drugs, such as Paxlovid, cannot be taken with some other medications, patients must meet with a clinician before any therapeutics are sent to their home.
There are plans to expand the program to multiple other sites throughout the year.
“This is a pilot program, so we’re kind of doing it in the spirit of learning as much as possible,” said Weitz.
A main goal for the scientists at the NIH is, “to understand what’s working, what’s not and how can we improve things if there were to be a larger scale rollout of this program,” he added.
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