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CDC Updates Criteria for Tracking and Reporting COVID-19 Cases

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
September 14, 2020

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Today, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) is implementing updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for tracking and reporting cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. South Carolina will follow these federal criteria to ensure the virus is uniformly reported across the country.

“The CDC’s update of COVID-19 case definitions is a normal and expected change to address what we are learning about diagnostic tests and the clinical presentation for this virus, which didn’t even exist a year ago,” said Dr. Linda Bell, South Carolina State Epidemiologist. “Updated reporting criteria is typical progression when we encounter new conditions. Doctors and scientists across the world continue to make discoveries about this deadly disease, and the better we are able to accurately and uniformly count cases, the more we learn how to stop it.”

The CDC’s full update of COVID-19 criteria is available here. Three of the most notable changes are: 

  • a positive antibody result no longer classifies an individual as a probable case
  • a positive antigen test from a respiratory specimen, which detects a protein on the virus, does classify an individual as a probable case
  • a new “suspect case” category was created for individuals with positive antibody tests or positive antigen tests from autopsy specimens from an individual not previously identified as a case

Because the suspect cases category represents individuals with the lowest level of evidence that they have been infected with COVID-19, suspect cases will be tracked and investigated to see if these individuals become probable or confirmed cases; however, the CDC advises against reporting out suspect cases as part of a state’s total case numbers. In line with this federal guidance, DHEC will continue its daily reporting of confirmed and probable cases only.

A positive antibody result will now be categorized as a suspect case.

“In essence, these updated COVID-19 case definitions indicate that antibody test results currently are not reliable enough to consider an individual a confirmed or probable case, however, an antigen test from a respiratory specimen is reliable enough to make someone a probable case,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, interim DHEC Public Health Director. “As medical experts learn more about COVID-19, we can expect additional updates in case definitions and reporting criteria. This is typical of all diseases and isn’t specific to COVID-19, and it helps ensure we have a uniform system in place for providing an accurate look at how this disease is affecting populations.” 

The CDC has also updated the clinical symptoms for diagnosing COVID-19. New symptoms were added that include nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and congestion or runny nose. Changes in taste or smell now meet the clinical criteria alone and do not need to be present with other symptoms. DHEC encourages anyone with these symptoms to get tested. 

Anyone who is regularly out and about in the community, around others, or not able to socially distance or wear a mask, is advised to get tested at least once a month, regardless of symptoms. There are currently more than 500 testing opportunities across the state. Testing has never been easier or more accessible in South Carolina, and results are available from DHEC testing locations and many providers in as little as two or three days.

For more information about the CDC’s updated case definitions, visit the CDC’s 2020 Interim Case Definition for COVID-19.

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