SYDNEY, May 13, 2020, SMH. The majority of Australians with fevers and coughs are not getting tested for coronavirus despite repeated pleas from state and federal leaders for everyone even with the mildest symptoms to come forward, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The latest FluTracking weekly report found more than 61 per cent of participants who reported flu-like symptoms did not get tested.
Last week 137 of FluTracking’s almost 70,000 participants reported having a fever and cough. The week before 142 people reported those symptoms and fewer than half got tested (48.6 per cent).
The true rates of symptomatic people not getting tested is likely higher, said FluTracking coordinator, public health physician and infectious disease surveillance expert Dr Craig Dalton.
“FluTracking participants tend to be from higher socioeconomic brackets and tend to use health services more than most so this probably suggests that 50 per cent or fewer people with fever and coughs in Australia are not getting tested for COVID,” Dr Dalton said.
For more than two weeks, the prime minister, premiers, chief ministers and top health officers have repeatedly urged people with even the mildest symptoms to get tested.
This has resulted in almost 878,000 tests being conducted since January 22.
But too many people are not heeding this advice, the crowd-sourced FluTracking data suggests.
“In my own experience I’ve seen people cough or appear to have a cold and we’d say to them ‘you should have a COVID test’ and they would say ‘oh, it’s not COVID’. But that is not something they could know because COVID could look like any kind of respiratory illness,” Dr Dalton said.
“People may say ‘it’s not COVID’ and they could be right or they could be fatally wrong for those around them.”
Public health experts have raised concerns that many in the community would understandably avoid getting tested, such as casual workers who could not afford to take one to three days off work to self-isolate as they wait for their results.
People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, those who would struggle to get to testing clinics due to a lack of public transport, and people in remote areas could also miss out on testing despite having symptoms, Dr Dalton said.
NSW has conducted almost 324,000 tests and has the highest testing rates in the world (38 tests for every 1000 people) – significantly higher than the United States (27 tests per 1000 people) and Britain (25 tests per 1000 people).
Victoria also has a high rate, having conducted over 258,000 tests.
Lifting testing rates will become increasingly vital to track and contain the predicted flare-up of cases as states and territories ease social distancing restrictions.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said the “next 10 days are quite critical” in determining how much the state can reopen, reiterating her testing goal of between 8000 and 10,000 per day.
Dr Dalton urged Australians to join FluTracking – launched in 2006 to monitor influenza, but has been adapted to become one of the federal government’s key COVID-19 sentinel surveillance tools.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.