Multnomah County saw a record number of new COVID-19 cases last week, and the reported figures may be low due to delayed reporting.
But no one knows how many county residents have tested positive at home.
That’s because at-home tests don’t have to be reported to health authorities if you live in Portland; and even if you wanted to self-report to Multnomah County officials, there’s no way for you to do so.
In one Oregon county where self-reporting is allowed, 9% of confirmed cases were the result of at-home tests, according to data obtained by WW. That offers a snapshot into just how many at-home cases might go unreported in Portland and other portions of the state where self-reporting isn’t an option.
Oregon expects to receive 12 million at-home tests sometime this month that it bought to distribute to schools, health agencies, Indigenous tribes and community organizations that serve farmworkers and homeless Oregonians. Retail stores like Walgreens and Walmart that sell at-home tests are consistently sold out because of high demand.
But as a new batch of at-home tests are set to flood the state, Oregon is letting counties decide whether to accept self-reported results.
Multnomah County health officials say at-home results aren’t crucial to understanding COVID trends.
“At this point in the pandemic, our health department does not need to know about every COVID test result,” says department spokeswoman Kate Yeiser. “Test data that gets reported to us from labs includes both positive and negative, so we get a decent snapshot of disease activity in the community. As cases become very common due to Omicron, we will be watching indicators like hospitalizations to see how we are doing. We don’t anticipate a change to this approach, because it is a step toward living with COVID.”
Multnomah County health officials say they have no estimate for how many positive at-home cases have gone unreported because people cannot voluntarily report them to the county.
The Oregon Health Authority says it does not recommend that people self-report their test results to the state: “OHA is not recommending people report their at-home test results to the counties,” says Jonathan Modie, an agency spokesman.
Modie says OHA also does not require people to tell their employer of their at-home positive test.
“Counties have neither the staff capacity nor the systems in place for gathering and uploading such a high volume of data on positive and negative cases that will be created by at-home tests...This also makes it nearly impossible for counties to investigate and conduct contact tracing on all positive cases and their close contacts, respectively,” Modie says. “Our main goal with at-home testing is for people to know whether they have COVID-19 as soon after a potential exposure or onset of symptoms as possible.”
But looking at other counties that have set up a mechanism for self-reporting offers some insight into what those figures might look like here.
This article was published with support from the Jackson Foundation, whose mission is: “To promote the welfare of the public of the City of Portland or the State of Oregon, or both.”