Aug 11, 2020 - Health

State coronavirus testing plans fall short of demand

Data: Department of Health and Human Services via Harvard Global Health Institute; Note: New York City's plan is included in New York state; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Data: Department of Health and Human Services via Harvard Global Health Institute; Note: New York City's plan is included in New York state; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. plans to test around 600,000 people for the coronavirus every day this month, according to plans that states submitted to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Yes, but: That's likely a drop in testing, compared to July, and it's not enough to meet national demand. By December, states said they plan to ramp up to around a collective 850,000 people tested a day — which also likely will not be enough.

Why it matters: The Trump administration has said it's up to states to develop their own plans for diagnostic testing. Those plans, when put together, still don't present an effective mitigation strategy, at least in light of the size of today's outbreak.

  • “It’s obviously completely inadequate," Harvard's Ashish Jha said. "The idea that we need 580,000 tests right now, and somehow we are doing more tests than we need, just flies in the face of reality.”
  • Jha added that "if this is about what states want to be able to do, obviously I’d be very surprised. It’s inconsistent with what states tell me they want to be able to do. "

Between the lines: How much testing a state needs to do depends on the size of its outbreak, relative to its population. Some of the states with the largest outbreaks have the least ambitious testing goals.

  • On the other hand, some states in which the virus is largely contained plan to test the most prolifically.

What they're saying: “We assess the state goals as being appropriate, but understand that states have frequently overachieved their initial goals based on the situations that arise (for example, an increase in cases)," said Assistant Secretary for Health Adm. Brett Giroir in a statement. 

  • "The amount of testing being done today, combined with smart and targeted polices, has clearly reversed the current outbreak in the sun-belt."

Details: HHS reported states' plans for how many people they'll test each month, which we converted into daily totals. Many patients, particularly those who test positive, receive more than one test over the course of their illness.

My thought bubble: Continuing on without a national testing strategy almost certainly means more chaos ahead.

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