Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease, told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation that his team currently is investigating available rapid tests to determine which are not as accurate for the new strain, with mixed results.
He does note that PCR tests, often considered the ‘gold standard’ for Covid testing, as still accurate for Omicron, and that he believes a majority of rapid tests can accurately detect the variant.
While the prospect of inaccurate tests is worrying, it would not affect official sequencing of the variant.
The U.S. only sequences PCR positive tests – which in itself is concerning to some officials – so there are no tests that would otherwise be included in official figures that are being missed.
The highly infectious variant being able to evade these tests is still concerning, though, as many use them before attending large events, and in some localities a recent negative test can serve as enough to avoid vaccine mandates.
People who may otherwise believe they are in a Covid-free environment might be unknowingly exposed to the virus, which is predicted to sweep the US in the coming weeks after causing record cases in the United Kingdom this week.
‘We’re getting preliminary information that not all of the diagnostic tests will be accurate with Omicron,’ Fauci said on Thursday.
‘Some, and many of the commonly used ones appear to pick up and detect Omicron quite well, we’re hearing. We’re in the process of doing large screening to determine which of these antigen point of care, rapid tests, still maintain their accuracy of diagnosis.
‘But clearly there are some that don’t. We’re trying to find out those that don’t reflect an accurate result. And if we do, make sure that those tests are not used to diagnose Omicron.’
Rapid tests that are unable to detect the Omicron variant make for a worrying prospect, because of false results that could potentially lull people into a false sense of security.
Health experts often recommend for people to use rapid tests before attending events like family gatherings, weddings, concerts and more.
Some events also allow a person to show a recent negative test in lieu of proof of vaccine.
If people are using the rapid tests that can not find Omicron, though, then events where people may drop their guard assuming everything is safe could potentially be exposing everyone to the virus.
Now that the Omicron variant is circulating in the U.S., having been sequenced 319 times in 36 states and Washington D.C.
The real figure is likely higher, though, as the country only sequences a fraction of cases. Failures of these tests allow for Omicron to spread rapidly.
Confirmed cases have jumped 32 per cent in the last 24 hours.
Many Covid vaccine mandates have testing opt-out options, for example, that allow for a person to continue working a job in-person or taking part in other activities as long as they test negative.
Schools have also put these measures in place as an extra layer of protection.
There programs often use rapid response antigen tests. If a person positive with Omicron goes undetected, they could spread the highly transmissible, vaccine resistant, strain, quickly in a population that believes they are safe from the virus.
Nearly every aspect of rapid testing in America has been a problem at some point during the pandemic.
Unlike many other countries, people in the U.S. do not have regular access to rapid tests. They are in short supply and can be very expensive if used every day.
Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki dismissed the idea of the U.S. government sending people tests in their homes to help fill some testing gaps, and was widely criticized for it.