If there's one thing we've learned from the coronavirus pandemic it's that there's no such thing as an expert.
Remember when US health experts changed their minds about masks? The same people who flip-flopped on the mask issue now admit they're giving us misleading testing data.
On Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) admitted they're combining the results from viral and antibody COVID-19 tests when they report on the country's testing totals despite the fact that they marked differences between the tests.
This method of reporting data has been widely criticized by people in the medical field who say combining the test results hinders the agency's ability to discern the country's actual testing capacity.
Viral tests — commonly referred to as PCR tests as most of them use a process known as polymerase chain reaction — are used by health professionals to determine whether or not a person is currently infected with the disease. During the pandemic, viral tests have been the most effective way of being able to diagnose a positive case of COVID-19. They are what state governments have been counting to track the number of confirmed cases of the virus they have.
Antibody, or serology, tests serve a different purpose. Unlike viral tests that are taken by nose swab or saliva sample, antibody tests examine a person's blood to see if their immune system has created antibodies to combat COVID-19. These tests allow doctors to see if someone has previously been exposed to the virus. As the push for widespread testing in the U.S. has strengthened, antibody tests have been widely produced, many experts have balked at saying that antibodies equate to immunity from COVID-19. Serology tests are also less accurate than PCR tests, increasing the chances for a false negative.
Moreover, a negative test means different things for either test. A negative PCR test indicates to physicians that the patient isn't currently ill with the disease. But, a negative serology test means that the patient has most likely not been exposed to or infected with COVID-19.
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA - JULY 17: Carmen Garcia prepares to have her nose swabbed by a nurse through a glass pane in the Aardvark Mobile Health’s Mobile Covid-19 Testing Truck on July 17, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida. The Aardvark mobile units were brought to the streets of Miami Beach through the Florida Department of Emergency Management as the cases of coronavirus spikes in the State of Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)