Apr 17, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus testing is plateauing

Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The number of coronavirus diagnostic tests being completed every day has plateaued over the last week — at a number that falls far short of what experts say is needed.

Between the lines: Some states are testing more than others, but we’ve got a long way to go before we’re ready to safely resume normal life. Otherwise, the virus will easily be able to spread undetected.

  • Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said he thinks we need to be doing 500,000 tests a day for the foreseeable future.

Nationwide testing capacity steadily increased for weeks, but has appeared to hit a wall around 145,000 tests a day. Several factors are holding it back:

  • Supply shortages for key test ingredients, swabs, test kits, and personal protective equipment.
  • Poor coordination: Some labs have excess testing capacity, but aren’t being sent samples from the providers collecting them.
  • Rules about who gets tested: Many states have limited testing to the sickest patients, and caseloads are dropping overall. But clinicians often have discretion as to who they test.
Data: The COVID Tracking Project, U.S. Census Bureau; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Variation among states isn’t only a result of demand. For example, Michigan is a hotspot for cases, but is near the bottom of the pack in testing.

  • States are competing for resources, and some have better existing infrastructure than others.
  • “Every state has come up with its own policy for testing, and most states are relying on a mix of different factors for how to do testing,” Jha said.
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