SCIOTO— Following Governor Mike DeWine’s coronavirus tests Thursday, questions and rumors started to encircle the validity of COVID-19 tests and the number of coronavirus cases in the state.
Within a course of 24 hours, DeWine had tested positive in Cleveland and then negatively back in Columbus. Part of the White House testing protocol, the governor was set to greet President Donald Trump at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. After his positive test, he announced on Twitter that he would be quarantining for 14 days.
Back in the capital, DeWine, staff members and his wife, Fran all tested negative. It was the second time he had been tested, having previously June 23. Ohio Press Secretary Dan Tierney said the governor’s negative test will be counted in Greene County, where his home in Cedarville resides and the positive will not count in the state’s official total since it is a false positive.
The sudden shift prompted uncertainty and frustration in some cases to the public.
“Glad to hear it but how are we supposed to trust any of these numbers when you get a positive test and a negative one with hours of each other?” asked one man in reply to the governor’s tweet.
Mistrust and doubt toward public health officials have reached new heights during the pandemic, prompting then Ohio Department of health director Dr. Amy Acton to step down from her roll in June after receiving threats.
Information is changing constantly, which is frustrating many who are trying to run businesses or just want to be informed. With misinformation rampant and dangerous, Portsmouth City Health Department Interim Administrator Belinda Leslie wanted to clarify a rumor that has been widely circulated.
Leslie said it is a misconception that multiple coronavirus cases are counted if one person tests positive on multiple occasions.
“Once we report a case in the Ohio disease reporting system, then any other information goes into that one case” said Leslie. “If they test (positive) six more times that information is entered into that one case, so it’s not counted seven times.”
Further reporting revealed DeWine had underwent two versions of the COVID-19 test. The first was the recently FDA-approved antigen test, which gets results in minutes and is considerably faster than others which can take days. FDA Public Affairs specialist Jim McKinney noted the antigen test is not as sensitive as the molecular PCR test, the second test he received.
“Antigen tests are very specific for the virus, but are not as sensitive as molecular PCR tests,” wrote McKinney. “This means that positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, but there is a higher chance of false negatives, so negative results do not rule out infection.”
PCHD Director of Nursing Christine Thomas said hospitals in Scioto County only use the PCR and RNA tests, noting that antigen tests are not as trusted in the medical community. Being the strongest coronavirus test, she added that no re-tests have been needed due to the accuracy of the PCR test.
“It is not as accurate as the PCR, which is why it is not recommended,” said Thomas. “It is a quicker test to get back for instances such as DeWine using it in a quick turnaround.”
During Friday’s news conference, which the governor delivered in Cedarville, Chief Scientific Officer for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center Dr. Peter Mohler provided additional details to help explain the differences in these tests.
PCR tests are like “big telescopes,” done far more commonly than other tests, he explained, the governor only receiving the antigen test since it was part of the White House protocol.
“Even a small bit of the virus can be amplified,” said Mohler of the PCR tests, which 1.6 million have been carried out in the state. “The advantages are we can detect very low viral loads and we have the ability to look at this over time.”
These tests make it challenging to scale the spread of coronavirus due to their slower nature and need to be operated by a trained individual, yet Mohler believes it gives the best understanding of what is going on. Antigen tests, on the other hand, are more like a pair of binoculars since they really on give a surface level understanding.
“Like binoculars, you are going to miss some stars,” he said, but adds that the expediency of the test can help contact tracers get the word out.
The jury is still out on antigen tests, despite DeWine’s false positive and Mohler wants to conduct more research on its effectiveness.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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