A COVID-19 antigen test with a single line on the results panel.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • Report positive COVID-19 test results to both your primary care physician and your local health department.
  • COVID-19 cases are undercounted due to the increasing use of at-home rapid tests.
  • An accurate COVID-19 case count is essential to keeping track of the virus and determining pandemic response.

The federal government has made at-home rapid tests increasingly accessible to the public: Each household can now order up to 16 free at-home tests to be delivered to their home address. This increased access has made it much more convenient for people to get tested if they’ve been exposed or if they’re experiencing symptoms. But it has also led to the undercounting of official COVID-19 cases.

Why is it important to report at-home COVID-19 test results?

If you get tested at a clinic, a mobile site, or a hospital, medical professionals report your test result to the CDC and make it a part of the official COVID-19 case count. But if you use an at-home test, your test result is not officially recorded unless you report it yourself. 

In the U.S., the number of at-home tests administered has surpassed the number of tests done in labs. This means that a substantial chunk of positive tests may not be reflected in the official tally of daily COVID-19 case counts. Since the beginning of the pandemic, case counts have been a key metric that public health officials and the general public rely on to understand the state of the pandemic. But without the reporting of self-administered tests, this metric is becoming increasingly unreliable. This is why it’s important to report your positive at-home COVID-19 test results.

Who do I report my test result to?

You should report your positive at-home test result to your primary care physician, either by phone or email. This will ensure that you receive the most appropriate medical care, including any treatments. 

Besides informing your health care provider, you should also report any positive test result to your local health department. Public health agencies use case count data for pandemic response planning, which includes mask recommendations and ensuring that hospitals have the staffing to match local case levels. The more accurate the data, the better states and counties can track COVID-19 transmission and make decisions to keep the community safe.

How do I report my test result to my local health department?

At-home test kits will typically provide information on how to report your results. For example, the BinaxNOW COVID-19 home test has an option for trained telehealth providers to send the result to both you and relevant public health authorities. Some health departments have their own online form or app for self-reporting, such as this one for Washington D.C. If neither of these are options or if you need more information, you can call your local health department to report your test result. Depending on which state you live in, your local health department may represent your county or your specific city.