RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — New cases and hospitalizations aren’t the only COVID-19 numbers dropping across North Carolina.
So is the number of tests per day.
A CBS17.com analysis of state Department of Health and Human Services data found the daily seven-day average is about 20 percent below its mid-January peak.
“It’s very important to get our testing numbers back up and robust,” Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International, told CBS 17 News on Thursday.
After climbing before Thanksgiving and Christmas and peaking with an average of 66,719 on Jan. 16 during the surge in cases and hospitalizations that followed those holidays, those numbers have come back down, with the average dipping to 53,214 on Wednesday, the most recent numbers available. The state has processed a total of more than 9 million tests since last March.
It mirrors a national trend: Daily tests, which approached 2 million midway through last month, are stuck at about 1.8 million today, The Atlantic reported.
Here in North Carolina, DHHS does not break down its testing totals by county or other geographic measures. But the drop-off hasn’t been universal, and there are ebbs and flows during the week with valleys on the weekends.
At the University of North Carolina’s medical center, for example, Dr. Melissa Miller said they’re seeing an overall leveling off of daily tests.
“What drove that peak around the holidays was the increase in symptomatic testing,” Miller said. “So what has pretty much been the same are all the asymptomatic people that we’re testing … and more than half of the tests that we do are on asymptomatic persons.”
Testing numbers tend to rise and fall along with the case counts — perhaps a reflection of the perpetual chicken-vs.-egg concern of whether high case counts are a function of a more prevalent disease or an increase in testing.
The seven-day average of daily new cases is down nearly 40 percent from its peak of more than 8,600 in mid-January.
Throughout the pandemic, the University of Southern California Dornsife has polled people about risk and COVID-19, and higher levels of concern about catching the virus appear to correspond with surges in testing.
“We certainly saw that here in the testing that we were doing, that extra either caution — I don’t know whether it’s fear or caution, that was driving that testing really before the holidays,” Miller said.
There’s also a question of how the vaccination process factors in.
Miller says it’s too early to see any impact of vaccination on testing numbers.
But MacDonald wondered if the push to inoculate North Carolinians may have resulted in the shifting of workers from testing to shots, or if people have become so focused on getting vaccinated that testing becomes an afterthought.
“It could just be the media driving people more toward interest in vaccination than testing,” she said.
There also could be a behavioral component to it.
With the holidays in the past and cold weather settling in, that could lead to less of an urge to gather — which could translate to less person-to-person contact, less spread and less of a demand for testing.
“People may have reduced mixing with others so much, so they don’t feel the need to do as much testing as they were before,” MacDonald said.