By WECT Staff and Joedy McCreary | March 31, 2021 at 10:17 PM EDT – Updated March 31 at 10:17 PM
RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — North Carolinians are doing a lot fewer COVID-19 tests than they were earlier this year.
The state has processed about half as many tests in March as it did during January and the current seven-day average number of tests is also roughly half what it was at its peak two months ago, according to a CBS17.com analysis of the Department of Health and Human Services data.
It’s a concerning continuation of a trend that coincided with the increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines and remains the only way to most accurately track the spread of the variant strains of the virus.
“I would encourage people not to give up on testing, and not to throw it out,” said Dr. Thomas Denny, the chief operating officer of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.
“It will remain a tool in the toolbox until we can really put this pandemic behind us,” he said.
State data show a total of just over one million tests processed through the first 30 days of March for an average of 34,100 per day. That’s far shy of the 1.9 million tests processed in January when the daily average exceeded 61,500.
Testing peaked across North Carolina in mid-January, when the seven-day rolling average of daily tests rose to 67,161 on Jan. 16. That figure dropped to 33,917 a week ago. More recent testing numbers tend to be unreliable and subject to change as backdated tests are processed and recorded.
A tracker from Johns Hopkins says North Carolina is one of 22 states that is not doing enough testing, citing its positive test rate of more than 6 percent as evidence that it is testing only the sickest people and is not casting a wide enough net.
Testing surged in the weeks before Thanksgiving and Christmas, holidays marked by gatherings of friends and families. With Easter coming up Sunday, there hasn’t appeared to be anything resembling that kind of a surge.
“People were rushing out to get tests because they wanted to go to Thanksgiving dinner, or whatever holiday celebration they were about to have,” Denny said. “And families were saying, ‘Well, you know, Tom, don’t come home and see Mom and Dad unless you get tested.’ So people were rushing out to get tests, so that they could try to have some semblance of gatherings.”
January also was when the state’s vaccination efforts ramped up dramatically, surpassing 300,000 doses in a week during the week of Jan. 18 and increasing from there. The state says more than 450,000 doses were administered last week.
Denny says the drop in testing could reflect an attitude change related to the vaccine.
“I think with the push to vaccinate people have sort of may be given up on testing and said, ‘Oh, I’ve just got to work towards getting vaccinated now,’” Denny said. “But for me, it’s a balance. Until the vaccination rate is incredibly high across the country, you can’t stop having the infrastructure ready for testing.”
The drop in testing is problematic with public health officials concerned about another surge in cases with mutations of the virus circulating throughout the state and the country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday night reported 178 cases of the variant that was first spotted in the United Kingdom now in North Carolina. A week ago that number was at 77, and it was at 40 the week before that.
“Testing is another tool in the toolbox here, and if you diagnose asymptomatic individual that has a variant, then I would say it’s even more important to do contact tracing and tests (on) those that were surrounded that index case,” Denny said. “Because they could be, again, those silent transmitters with a virus that’s more likely to transmit and cause more problems.”
Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.