by Brenée Goforth
Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
Carolina Journal’s Julie Havlak reported on March 30, North Carolina is pivoting the way it tracks coronavirus. Havlak writes:
With a shortage of COVID-19 lab tests, North Carolina is pivoting in how it tracks the spread of the virus. The state plans to use syndromic surveillance to track COVID-19 — deploying the system it uses to monitor the seasonal flu for the coronavirus.
The state plans to continue a “high volume” of testing, but it will also now rely on patients’ reported symptoms to track the coronavirus. It will track hospital admissions for acute respiratory illness and reported instances of “fever cough syndrome,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Zack Moore
The change comes partly out of a testing shortage. Havlak explains:
“There are limits nationally not only in testing supplies, but perhaps more importantly, in personal protective equipment that is so important for protecting our health care workers and patients,” Moore said. “We need to rely on some of our other evidence based methods and tools to track this effectively.”
The state is repurposing networks that track seasonal influenza. The CDC runs the Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network — the clinical sites scattered across North Carolina and the nation that traditionally collect data on influenza. Now, the network will also track the coronavirus.
There is another potential way to track the virus. Havlak writes:
The state has considered using random sampling to discover that percentage, but such testing would have to be done in a scientifically rigorous way — meaning tests would have to be repeated and carefully considered. The state does not yet have a reliable random antibody test to discover how many people have recovered from the virus.
If an antibody test is developed, things could change. Havlak quotes Dr. Moore:
“We have to acknowledge that we’re just in the beginning,” Moore said. “There is every indication that it is really ramping up now. We’re in the acceleration phase of the virus here in N.C. We certainly have not peaked.”