PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – With more than 1,700 new coronavirus cases reported by the state today, it might look like we’re is seeing another surge but the Arizona Department of Health Services says that is absolutely not the case.
Shortly before updating its dashboard on Thursday, AZDHS put out an explanation for the increase. It’s because of results from a newly approved diagnostic test. Included in today’s update – and updates for the next several days – are results from tests done over the past few months.
Some doctors like Dr. Andrew Carroll are concerned with the accuracy of the new tests. Dr. Carroll said you should not have any reservations if your test is positive but if your test is negative, he has an idea. "I think there should be a protocol with following that up with a PCR test or another test that has accuracy just to be sure that that negative is actually negative," said Dr. Carroll.
According to AZDHS, the Food and Drug Administration approved a fourth antigen test for diagnosing COVID-19. Antigen tests are not the same as antibody tests, which require a blood draw.
"An antibody [test] is going to look for your body’s defense system against a previous infection with COVID-19," Dr. Cara Christ, the director of AZDHS, explained to Arizona's Family shortly after Thursday morning's dashboard update. "If you’ve been exposed and your body made antibodies, then that will show up as positive. But it means that you previously had the disease. You don’t currently have it.
An antigen test, however, is designed to look for a current infection. It's like the rapid tests for the flu or strep throat. Results usually are available at the testing site, like a doctor’s office, within an hour.
“This is just one more test that allows people to get rapid results," Dr. Cara Christ, the AZDHS director, explained to Arizona's Family shortly after the Thursday morning dashboard update. "It gives you a rapid result that you can use to make quick decisions."
Antigen testing is what UArizona used as students and faculty returned to campus. The test also played a “role in the return of Pac-12 football.”
Because antigen testing is increasing in availability in Arizona, it's likely that we'll see more reported cases. The important thing to watch, according to Christ, is the percent positivity -- how many of the tests administered come back positive.
Christ also said that looking at trends over days and weeks -- as opposed to day-to-day data -- provides a better overall picture of what's happening with the coronavirus in Arizona.
Going forward, AZDHS will be reporting "COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests" in place of "COVID-19 PCR Tests." "This change will provide a more accurate picture of COVID-19 in Arizona moving forward," Christ wrote on the AZDHS website. "The use and reporting of different tests continues to evolve as we increase our understanding of COVID-19."
Christ said Arizonans have done a great job following guidelines meant to help slow the spread of the coronavirus -- wearing a mask when out in public, practicing good hygiene habits, and staying home when sick. At the same time, she also has a warning. The virus is not going away and flu season is upon us.
"We know it’s still in the community, so we need to keep doing those same steps," she said, adding one more step -- getting a flu vaccine.
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