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Testing Ramps Up, But U.S. Daily Numbers Still Less Than 20% Of Goal for Reopening Economy


Since the coronavirus pandemic began its rampage through the U.S. in early March, testing – viewed as a key to curbing the spread of the lethal virus – has been slow to climb to the projected useful daily levels of 152 tests per 100,000 people.

Nationally, an average of only 28 people per 100,000 have been tested over the last six weeks, according to an analysis of data by Social Explorer. The figures have ranged from an average of 82 daily tests per 100,000 people in Rhode Island to 14 in Kansas.

Although testing has picked up significantly over the past two weeks, the wide range of average daily tests highlight the difficulty in containing the spread of the virus, which has killed about 40,000 Americans. More testing is required to identify and isolate people who are infected with the virus, whether they’re sick or asymptomatic. Currently, almost 20 percent of the U.S. population that’s been tested has been infected with the virus; the World Health Organization recommends that the percentage be dropped to 10 percent before economic activity can begin returning to normal.


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The figures show that some of the hardest-hit states are closer than others to reaching the 152 daily tests per 100,000 people. New York, where almost 15,000 people have died during the outbreak, reported 73 daily tests per 100,000 residents since early March, the second-highest rate in the nation. Neighboring New Jersey, which also has one of the higher death rates in the nation, has an average daily testing rate of 46 people per 100,000 residents, tied with Vermont for the eighth-highest rate in the nation.

Only two other states have averaged more than one-third of the recommended daily testing rate since the pandemic arrived in the U.S. In Louisiana, where the pandemic has swept through New Orleans, officials reported an average daily testing rate of 67 people per 100,000 residents. Massachusetts had the fourth-highest rate in the nation, with an average daily rate of 56 tests per 100,000 people.

Test rates have been low in some of the nation’s most populous states. In California, which was one of the first states to implement a shelter-in-place directive for residents, has managed only 16 tests per 100,000 residents on an average day. Texas, the second most-populated state, has tested an average of 15 people per 100,000. It trails only Kansas for the lowest testing rate in the nation.

Despite the slow ramp-up of testing, figures by the COVID Tracking Project indicate that several states were close to reaching the goal of 152 daily tests per 100,000 people on April 21. Oklahoma reported 220 tests per 100,000 residents. Rhode Island (213) and Massachusetts (190) also surpassed 152 tests per 100,000 people on that day. The remaining 47 states and the District of Columbia fell short. Maine, with 13 tests for a population of 1.3 million people, tested the least percentage of residents on April 21.

The testing is only one data point that will be used to determine the safety of reopening the economy for states. The World Health Organization’s has recommended that at least 90 percent of the tested population be virus-free before group activities can resume. New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut have the highest percentage of people testing positive for the virus. In New Jersey, where 4,753 people have died, half of the people tested are found to be infected with the virus. New York has the second-highest rate at 38.8 percent, with Connecticut trailing at 31.7 percent. 

Despite their low testing rates, Texas and Kansas are among the states that either have or are close to reporting 10 percent or less of positive test results. Hawaii currently has the highest percentage of negative test results in the nation, with 97.6 percent of residents tested being clear of the virus. Alaska is No. 2, with a 3 percent positive test rate, trailed by Montana (96.1 percent) and West Virginia (96 percent).

Author: Frank Bass

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