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Why you may want to consider data other than positivity rates when making Covid-19 decisions

Public health workers suggest a more accurate snapshot of Covid trends might be gleaned from statistics like hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and death rates.

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida’s Covid-19 positivity rates are persistently hovering between 20 and 30%, but that’s been going on for weeks now, even as other indicators have started to level off or trend downward.

That’s why some public health experts say we might want to start paying attention to other statistics when weighing our risks and options.

“Positivity rates for some of the diseases aren’t really that useful anymore,” Dr. Jill Roberts with USF Public Health said.

The positivity rate, Roberts says, once a trusted means to measure Covid, is now very likely unreliable.

“And, specifically with Covid, with most people testing at home, we’re not really capturing great data,” she said.

When the virus first started spreading people would get tested at state-run centers. Each test, positive or negative was recorded and calculated. The large sample provided an accurate snapshot.

Now, people test at home and people we spoke with said they’d reported a negative result. Positive results, however, can lead to a doctor or hospital visit which are then recorded — skewing the numbers.

“I’ve taken them, and I haven’t reported it to anybody,” Al Stewart in Tampa said. “I just, I was negative, and that was it.”

“Yeah, I took my test for my family's sake and it was negative. So, we tossed it out and went on with my life,” Matt Majot said.

“All these tests are for the most part coming back negative,” Roberts said. “But they’re not counted in those numbers.”

Public health workers suggest a more accurate snapshot of Covid trends might be gleaned from statistics like hospitalizations, ICU occupancy and trends regarding death rates.

“The good news,” Roberts said, “is those things are kind of trending down right now. They didn’t take a huge drop down, but they are trending in the right direction.”

When it comes to home test kits, many people, especially those who got them for free a few months back — could have dates that show they’ve now expired.

Don’t throw them away just yet, Roberts said.

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Instead, check the FDA’s website which shows several brands have been deemed effective beyond the expiration date. The FDA shows how long the shelf-life has been extended - in some cases, several months.

“Does the control line look OK? Does it turn up like it's supposed to? If it is super faint or if it’s missing then the test has gone bad. Throw it in the trash,” Roberts said. “If your control line looks like it develops properly there’s a good chance that the test is still working OK.”

One thing that has not changed, Roberts said, is the advice to try to avoid Covid and not be resigned to getting it and trying to fight it off since long Covid remains a real concern and long-term health impacts from the virus are still not known.

If you have a Covid home testing kit and want to find out whether the FDA has extended the expiration date, click here.

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