Boxed at-home Covid test with the name "QuickVue" on white background
An at-home Covid test

A friend of ours sent the following account about reporting an at-home Covid test to the right public health authorities.

I woke up one morning in September feeling absolutely fine and went on to have a typically active day. But by late afternoon I felt feverish. When I returned home, I reached into the back of my closet and pulled out an at-home Covid test I had bought in December, but assumed I’d never need.

When I saw it was positive, I made a list of the people who needed to know: friends, family and coworkers I’d had contact with over the previous 10-day period. I called, texted or emailed all of them. But it did not occur to me to report my result to public health institutions.

It’s not just me. When people test positive at hospitals, clinics and testing sites, the law requires staff to report the results to local and state governments who in-turn funnel the data to the Centers for Disease Control.

At-home Covid tests not being counted

We looked into this during the first Omicron wave back in December, but the process hasn’t come very far since then. There is no rule for people who test themselves at home. And that’s a lot of us. While we don’t know how many at-home test kits have been used, we know it’s a lot: New York City mayor, Eric Adams’ administration has distributed millions to his constituents. So has New York governor, Kathy Hochul. And the Biden administration has procured more than a billion tests for Americans to use at home.

The summer’s Covid spike is winding down now, but epidemiologists are already watching case counts across the country to predict how and when the next wave will hit. Should I worry if my case isn’t counted?

When it comes to data, it seems like more is better but experts aren’t unanimous.

A CDC page on self-testing confirmed that “COVID-19 surveillance continues to be based on results from laboratory testing.” But it also said that “the public health community, including CDC, is confident that situational awareness remains strong without receiving self-test results,” which sounds like they don’t really need to know about our at-home tests because they’re able to estimate case total case numbers based on trends in clinic tests.

On top of that, some research goes a step further, suggesting that at-home test results are not only unnecessary, but that counting them could actually muddy the big picture even more. That’s because not everybody uses at-home tests at the same rate. White people, younger people and wealthier people tend to use the tests more frequently, giving researchers plenty of data for those groups and a big question mark for their counterparts.

Reporting an at-home Covid test

But other experts told news outlets that it’s worth it to make the effort to get your positive test in official tallies.

The New York Times did a how-to story on reporting back in June of 2022. They wrote: “If you test positive at a clinic or another community testing site, those results must be reported to public health departments under the CARES Act,” but reporting of home tests results is murkier.

Local health departments are one resource, The Times wrote:

“Some reporting methods are straightforward, like the one in Marin County, Calif., which has a simple online form for reporting results. Residents of St. Louis County, Mo., can call in, email or submit their results online. In Washington, D.C., you can use an iPhone or Android app, in addition to the Department of Health’s self-reporting web portal.

“Other health department websites are notoriously confusing to navigate or even understand. New York State’s Covid-19 resource page, for example, says that residents are not required to report their test results. A representative for the Department of Health said that this was because New York had used only results from laboratories or official testing providers “to analyze trends and report consistent data to the public” since the beginning of the pandemic. But some counties in New York, like Albany County and Tompkins County, allow reporting of home test results, which is separate from the data the state collects.”

If I had tried to report, who would I have reported to? Some brands of testing kits actually come with instructions on how to report your result through the company’s app. Mine didn’t, but the city website says:

“If you test positive for COVID-19, immediately separate yourself from others and contact your healthcare provider, who can talk to you about how best to manage the infection.

“If you do not have a provider, call 212-COVID19 (212-268-4319).

“For more information on what to do after you test positive, including possible treatment options, see COVID-19: When You Are Sick.”

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...