Enhanced Public Reporting of COVID-19 Outbreaks

What is now included that was not reported before?
Beginning on May 7, 2021, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) will publicly report outbreaks with laboratory evidence from any diagnostic test meeting the COVID-19 outbreak definition. Previously, VDH only publicly reported COVID-19 outbreaks with laboratory confirmed cases from molecular amplification tests (MATs), like PCR tests. Now, VDH will report COVID-19 outbreaks with cases identified by any diagnostic test, such as antigen tests, to more accurately represent the burden of COVID-19 outbreaks.

COVID-19 cases associated with an outbreak are often underreported. This is because not everyone seeks testing or are identified as part of an outbreak during the public health investigation by VDH staff. However, the impact on a community is the same regardless of whether an outbreak consists of cases with positive PCR or antigen tests. In an effort to inform the community about what is occurring in their area, it is important to share all COVID-19 outbreaks that are being investigated.

Why now?
As testing and reporting of COVID-19 cases have evolved, so has VDH’s approach to outbreak reporting. Early in the pandemic, only people with a positive PCR test were classified as a COVID-19 case. However, later, when antigen tests received Emergency Use Authorization  from the United States Federal Drug Administration (FDA), people with positive antigen tests  were counted as probable cases of COVID-19. Many healthcare facilities and school-based testing programs use only antigen testing options. Reporting outbreaks with positive lab results from antigen or PCR tests more accurately informs the public about how many COVID-19 outbreaks there are in their community.

Will VDH include outbreak data since the beginning of the pandemic?
No, outbreak data will be updated retrospectively from January, 1, 2021. VDH conducted an evaluation of COVID-19 outbreak data and methods for public reporting. Analysis of COVID-19 outbreak data shows an increase in reported outbreaks with antigen only lab tests beginning January 1, 2021. VDH is prioritizing outbreak data for 2021 to share relevant and actionable data to the public now.