With worldwide deaths from COVID-19 approaching 5 million, testing remains an important tool in limiting the spread of infection and ending the pandemic. While there’s an eagerness to return to normal daily life, the Delta variant’s increased transmissibility and associated uptick in cases are a reminder of the importance of continued infection screening, identification, and protective measures. Recent changes in testing habits, however, fail to align with the ongoing need for COVID-19 diligence.
To gain a clearer understanding of factors affecting testing behaviors, a September 2021 survey of more than 3,000 individuals in the U.S. and the U.K. sought up-to-date answers to key questions around who is and isn’t getting tested for COVID-19, and why.
Despite a recent increase in COVID-19 cases, overall testing rates remain low
It’s been over a year and half since the pandemic began. Surprisingly, more than two in five Americans (42%) and nearly a third of people in the U.K. (32%) have never been tested for COVID-19.
In general, testing is more frequent and standardized in the U.K., where 39% of adults have been tested in the last three months, than in the U.S., where only 12% of adults have been tested during that time. Following a similar trend, nearly a third of adults in the U.K. (29%) reported getting tested regularly compared to only 11% in the U.S. In fact, a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the U.K. is partially attributed to increased testing .
For those who have been tested, the top reason for doing so also varied between countries. In the U.K., testing is more closely tied to job requirements, indicating that British employers are more likely to make testing mandatory. Respondents in the U.S. cited possible exposure to COVID-19 as the most common reason for getting tested.
Test accessibility, cost and speed matter
In both countries, people would be more likely to pursue testing if the process was easier, less expensive, and delivered answers more quickly. The multiple steps involved in finding a place that does testing, scheduling an appointment based on availability, going to a clinic, and then waiting on results are limiting. This finding points to a need for streamlined, cost-effective testing options in both countries.
For some, variants have affected testing and vaccination decisions
The rising threat of new variants has led some individuals to get tested for the first time (29% in the U.S. and 21% in the U.K.) or tested more regularly (32% in the U.S. and 34% in the U.K.). Variants were also cited as the motivating factor for getting vaccinated for 41% of U.S. respondents and 36% of those surveyed in the U.K. In both countries, there is universal apprehension relating to reduced vaccine efficacy in the face of new mutations.
Interestingly, while most people expressed concern about new variants to some degree, 60% of U.S. respondents and 68% of those in the U.K. say they have not changed their behavior because of them.
Vaccinated individuals are less likely to seek testing
In both the U.S. and the U.K., the top reason for not getting tested in the last three months was vaccination status. This finding is directly linked to a question that’s been highly debated since vaccines were first introduced – what is the likelihood of a vaccinated person spreading COVID-19?
Vaccination offers clear protection from severe COVID-19 complications, hospitalization, and death, but data on a vaccinated person’s risk of spreading the disease to others has been more uncertain. While one recent study suggests those who are vaccinated are 63% less likely to transmit COVID-19 to those who aren’t , another looking specifically at Delta cases found similar viral loads between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients, making transmission a significant concern .
Nonetheless, since breakthrough infections have been reported, experts say being fully vaccinated should not prevent someone from getting tested if they experience COVID-19 symptoms. Similarly, since vaccinated individuals are more likely to be asymptomatic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that exposure is reason enough for a vaccinated person to be tested .
Regular testing remains an important tool in fighting the pandemic
Mandatory screening to enter certain countries or locations is one way to minimize the risk of COVID-19 infection and transmission, but regular voluntary testing is also needed. With a winter spike in cases anticipated and the holiday season of gatherings fast approaching, testing remains a critical tool.
“As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the world, we need to use all available resources to stop transmission,” said Manoj Gandhi, M.D., Ph.D., Thermo Fisher’s senior director of medical affairs, Genetic Sciences. “Despite overall pandemic fatigue, a continued commitment to regular testing is needed as we transition from the pandemic to an endemic state.”
Check back soon for more survey insights, including common misconceptions surrounding COVID-19.
The survey was conducted online by Regina Corso Consulting on behalf of Thermo Fisher Scientific between September 8 and 13, 2021 among 2,021 U.S. residents and 1,017 U.K. residents ages 18 and older. Samples were balanced by age, gender, region, education and income to be representative of both countries as a whole.