State hands out more free tests; will results skew Vermont’s COVID data?

Published: Dec. 28, 2021 at 7:00 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2021 at 6:13 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont continues to ramp up COVID testing with more PCR clinics being scheduled and by handing out thousands of free at-home rapid tests. But the transition to at-home testing and its reliance on self-reporting could change the way the state tracks the pandemic.

At the governor’s weekly COVID briefing on Tuesday, it was noted that Vermonters self-reporting antigen test results could skew the data-- due to a lack of self-reporting-- whether the result is positive or negative.

“Yeah, I feel lucky,” said Jeff Spangler of Burlington.

“Just to be sure, we have our sister coming from New York City who’s also another essential worker, so we wanted to gather safely,” said Jackie Sandobal of Burlington.

Vermonters felt relieved after grabbing free antigen tests from the state Tuesday morning in Colchester, where thousands of cars lined up at the VTrans site before the daily supply ran out around 8:20 a.m.

“It’s all predicated on the supply. So just keep that in mind. We’re doing the best we can with the supply we have which is limited,” said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.

In his news briefing Tuesday, Scott noted the importance of these antigen tests in monitoring the spread of COVID and said they’re working on a plan with the federal government to have more in Vermont.

“We’re distributing them the best we can with the supply we have without impacting all other sectors. Our responsibility and focus is on the ‘Test to Stay’ at schools, as well as long-term care facilities, so we want to make sure we reserve enough antigen tests for that,” Scott said.

“Before I go visit a friend Wednesday night who’s immunocompromised, I’m like, I wanna test in the car before I visit her house,” said Elaine Gordon of Burlington.

But as more Vermonters turn to antigen tests, state officials note the nature of self-reporting results might skew data they’ve used for nearly two years to track the pandemic.

“There will be Vermonters who do that well and others who it slips their mind or what have you. Probably we’ll learn more positives and not all the negatives,” Vt. Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said.

So Levine says it might be time to stop looking at the daily case counts and focus more on hospitalization and death numbers.

“There’s going to be probably over these next weeks, with more and more antigen testing being done, less emphasis on what is the percent positivity because it won’t be an accurate number anymore,” Levine said.

Levine adds that containing the virus is the most important part of transitioning COVID-19 from a pandemic to an endemic, which would be a sickness like the flu that coexists in communities every year.

“Though we’re not endemic yet with the COVID-19 virus, SARS CoV-2, that’s where we’re headed and that’s why case numbers won’t be as critical for any of us to know,” Levine said.

This was the third day the state handed out the free test kits.

According to the Health Department’s website, there will be more antigen test giveaways Wednesday at eight VTrans sites throughout the state from 8 a.m. until they run out. Click here for details on where.

Click here for the state’s self-reporting online portal for at-home test results.

Related Stories:

State relying on Vermonters to self-report at-home COVID test results

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State runs out of free antigen tests in hours; more available Friday

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