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Coronavirus: What is a presumptive positive case of COVID-19?

The Center for Disease Control has three levels to classify a potential case of COVID-19:

NEW ORLEANS — As more areas across the United States report new confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease, the phrase "presumptive positive" has caused confusion for some readers.

According to the Center for Disease Control, a presumptive positive result is when a patient has tested positive by a local public health laboratory, but those results are still pending confirmation at a CDC lab.

The CDC has sent test kits to the states, and those kits are what are being used in many health departments. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that cases that test positive with those kits are still considered presumptive due to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

For public health purposes, a presumptive positive result using a CDC test is treated as a positive. The states can then start to take action and a coordinated public health response can begin, including performing additional testing and contact tracing.

The CDC has three levels to classify a potential case of COVID-19:

  1. Person Under Investigation (PUI): Any person who is under investigation for having the virus that causes COVID-19, or who was under investigation but tested negative for the virus.
  2. Presumptive Positive case of COVID-19: Anyone who has tested positive for the virus, but testing was conducted at the local or state level. Currently, presumptive positive cases must have sample undergo confirmatory testing at the CDC.
  3. Laboratory-confirmed case of COVID-19: Anyone who has tested positive for the virus at the CDC laboratory. 

Cases reported to the CDC include CDC confirmed cases as well as presumptive positive cases reported by the states. The CDC reports the total presumptive and confirmed cases weekdays at noon. This number is based on all state reports received by 4 p.m. the previous day.

The CDC said that states are responding quickly and in the event of a discrepancy between the CDC and state case counts, the state case counts should always be considered more up-to-date.

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