Defining COVID-19 Terms: Surveillance Testing

May 7, 2020


Elizabeth (Izzy) Montgomery, MPA
Policy Analyst

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In this installment in our series explaining key terms and phrases used by public health officials in discussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, we look at the term “surveillance testing.”

As states weigh lifting restrictions implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19, testing continues to be a priority. Initially, Arkansas public health officials targeted COVID-19 testing for individuals exhibiting symptoms who were high-risk ― those over the age of 65 or with risk factors. Officials also prioritized testing for healthcare workers, particularly those in direct contact with COVID-19 patients. The targeted approach was attributed in part to a lack of available testing supplies and the need to reserve testing supplies for those at greatest risk.

On April 15, the Arkansas Department of Health relaxed these criteria. The change came as additional testing supplies became available, along with new evidence regarding asymptomatic carrier transmission in the spread of COVID-19. On April 24 and 25, state officials also initiated a two-day testing surge campaign to encourage any person with COVID-like symptoms to get tested. The shift in the state’s approach was part of a move toward surveillance testing.

The term ”surveillance testing has been used to describe efforts to monitor the current state of the pandemic by providing insight into the spread of the virus among certain geographic areas or groups of people. Shifting to a surveillance strategy allows public health officials to have a better idea of how widespread the virus’ impact has been across the state and throughout various populations. Surveillance testing can also inform decisions to further relax current restrictions and social distancing measures or target specific communities for intervention. Finally, it can provide key information about treatment interventions and the impact of a vaccination, once one is developed.

See more definitions of terms and other information about the pandemic on our website’s COVID-19 in Arkansas page.

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