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What's causing the high positive rates at rapid testing sites?

Posted at 6:29 PM, Aug 31, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — 3.1% of the 1200 rapid COVID-19 tests administered in Western New York on Sunday were positive. Overall, 2% of all COVID-19 tests were positive across the Western New York region. Governor Andrew Cuomo said because of those results the area should be moving with caution.

“Western New York still have a caution flag flying,” Cuomo said.

“I think this is a good wake up call for us here in Western New York,” Dr. Thomas Russo, Professor and Chief of Infectious Disease at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Science, said.

Buffalo had a 4.8% positive rapid test rate, while the rest of Erie County had a 0.6% positive rate. Chautauqua County saw a 1.4% percent positive rate. Niagara County had a 4% the positive rate.

“I'm not concerned because I look and trends and trends tell us we're going in the right direction,” said Dan Stapleton, Public Health Director of Niagara County.

Stapleton and Dr. Russo said there’s no need to be alarmed.

“The percent of positive tests is not the same as the percent of individuals infected in the community... That by far overrepresents the incidence of infection that's occurring right now in the community which is much, much lower,” Dr. Russo said.

A representative from Governor Cuomo’s office said the rapid tests were not at random. Those who were tested were self-selecting people who may have symptoms or could have been exposed. Stapleton said he agrees.

“Most people are going to go there if they have symptoms so that increases the likelihood that they test positive,” Stapleton said.

Both Stapleton and Dr. Russo said the rapid test results have massive benefits.

“Now they're getting it right then and there. We can quickly isolate so they're not spreading it for the next five six days,” Stapleton said.

“And that will enable our public health department to identify those individuals you've been in close contact with and quarantine those individuals so if they're incubating the virus they won't go ahead and infect other individuals,” Dr. Russo said.

For now, Dr. Russo said Western New Yorkers should continue to do what they can to slow the spread.

“Double down on being rigorous about the use of masks... Package that together with physical distancing and hand washing,” Dr. Russo said.

The Department of Health will continue to run rapid tests until the end of the day on Wednesday.