The State of North Carolina oversees a virus “COVID-19 NC Dashboard” on the web that includes daily stats on the number of positive cases, hospitalizations and other data related to the pandemic.

On Friday, Sept. 25, the state announced that it was adding the results of a testing method that hasn’t been included in the statistics before. That measurement change increased both the number of positive cases and number of deaths the state is reporting.

In a press release, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced that it’s adding information about antigen testing to the Dashboard – including now positive COVID-19 cases and deaths that are diagnosed with those antigen tests. It will now include the results from antigen tests completed daily across the state.

The change in tracking meant an increase the number of cases and deaths being reported by North Carolina’s Dashboard. It resulted in 4,563 antigen positive cases and 25 deaths being added to the existing numbers, and it will mean an increase in future numbers as well when compared to what those numbers would have been using only “Molecular” test results.

In the press release, the department explained the difference between the two types of testing: “Molecular (PCR) and antigen tests are used to diagnose COVID-19, meaning that they look to see if someone is currently infected with COVID-19. Each test looks for something different to determine if someone is infected. A molecular (PCR) test looks for the virus’s genetic material. An antigen test is a rapid test that looks for specific proteins on the surface of the virus. Where the test is processed may also differ. Molecular (PCR) tests are processed in a laboratory. Antigen tests are often processed at the point of care, such as in a health care provider’s office.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requires that states report molecular and antigen positive cases separately. Regardless of the type of test used, a person who tests positive is considered to have COVID-19.

Going forward, the Dashboard will provide information for cases, deaths and tests completed by the type of test used. People are only counted as a case once – even if they have multiple positive tests.

According to state health officials, the department is able to add information on antigen testing due to improved reporting practices. The note that reporting on antigen tests has been “challenging” because antigen tests are usually given in settings like doctors’ offices rather than in public health facilities where a test result is more likely to get entered into the state’s tracking system.