Does mass COVID testing cause over-diagnosis? Expert says tracing still vital

By , KCBS Radio

COVID-19 testing has varied from county to county across the United States, but a Harvard health expert is reassuring those who fear over-diagnosing, the more testing the better.

Dr. Jeremy Faust, emergency physician at Bringham and Women's Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School, told KCBS Radio's "Ask An Expert" that up to date information is most important to estimate risk.

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"I think that there's this narrative that says if we over-test then we over-diagnose and we sort of escalate the problem, and my view as both a doctor and someone who studies public health is that knowledge is power because if we know where the virus is, we can track it and make sure it doesn't end up in places where we absolutely cannot afford to have it," he said.

Without uniform standards for testing, accuracy is taking a hit, Faust explained, making it difficult to assume the impact of the omicron variant.

"Testing is always a problem because some states or counties test very few people and others test everybody and so the hit rate might be very different," he said. "I think without uniform standards it is difficult to make that interpretation."

The fallout from inaccuracy means COVID-19 patients may not be getting the resources or attention they need as their numbers are not displayed correctly on the national scale.

To remedy this, Faust and his team have transitioned to looking at the overall condition of an area instead of solely relying on coronavirus numbers. "We follow how hospitals are doing in other counties across the country. It's all contextual, but I think sometimes people take the numbers out of context," he said.

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