Mar 6, 2020 - Health

The Atlantic: Testing of Americans for coronavirus "shockingly sluggish"

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Atlantic said that it was only able to verify 1,895 people as having been tested for the coronavirus as of Friday morning in the U.S., about 10% of whom tested positive.

The big picture: "The figures we gathered suggest that the American response to the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, has been shockingly sluggish, especially compared with that of other developed countries," The Atlantic writes Friday.

  • "The net effect of these choices is that the country’s true capacity for testing has not been made clear to its residents. This level of obfuscation is unexpected in the United States, which has long been a global leader in public-health transparency."
  • Tracking the number of people tested becomes more complex as the situation evolves. But, state officials may not have the capacity to track the data in a time of emergency, per The Atlantic.

Why it matters: Vice President Mike Pence promised Thursday that roughly 1.2 million tests will be available this week and another 4 million next week.

  • Even as the U.S. ramps up its testing efforts, local labs and officials are limited and can only test several thousand people a day — not the hundreds of thousands the White House has promised.
  • Most tests require two-specimens samples so "the top-line number of available tests should be cut in half. In other words, '1.5 million tests' should be able to test roughly 750,000 people," The Atlantic said.
"The CDC got this right with H1N1 and Zika, and produced huge quantities of test kits that went around the country. I don't know what went wrong this time."
— Thomas Frieden, former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells The Atlantic

What they found: The Atlantic's investigation found that "disorder" came after the CDC decided not to publish state data.

  • Plus, not all states regularly update the information on how many people they tested and some were more focused on updating the number of confirmed cases.

How it works: The Atlantic interviewed dozens of public officials, surveyed local data and gathered data from individual state websites to determine the factors behind the number of people being tested. They found...

  • The availability of the tests is limited, the capacity to test varies greatly per state, and labs have to be trained on how to execute the tests.
  • The CDC sets the parameters on determining which people local health officials should be testing, and those guidelines have been quite strict.

What's next: The Food and Drug Administration relaxed some regulations on the types of coronavirus tests that can be used, and that will likely increase testing capacity, per The Atlantic.

Of note: The CDC and the White House did not respond to Axios' queries before publication.

Go deeper: Coronavirus updates: Global infections top 100,000

Go deeper

The other coronavirus test we need

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Researchers are racing to develop tests that detect whether someone may have developed immunity to the coronavirus, which could help society return to normal faster.

Why it matters: These tests could help people know if they are able to go back to work, as well as aid researchers in tracking the scale and death rate of the disease — key data for current and future pandemic policies.

Go deeperArrowMar 28, 2020 - Health

U.S. coronavirus cases top 1,000 as states scramble to curb the spread

A stretcher is moved from an AMR ambulance to the Life Care Center of Kirkland in Washington state. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

The number of cases of the novel coronavirus in the U.S. soared to 1,037 and the death toll to at least 31 by early Wednesday, per data from Johns Hopkins and state health departments.

The big picture: Nearly 40 states had reported cases by Tuesday and at least 12 have declared a state of emergency — Washington, California, New York, Oregon, Kentucky, Maryland, Utah, Colorado, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Florida and Michigan — which reported its first two cases on Tuesday evening.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Mar 11, 2020 - Health

What the U.S. can learn from other countries in the coronavirus fight

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Note: Cases are shown on a logarithmic scale; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The countries that have most successfully fended off the novel coronavirus have mainly done it with a combination of new technology and old-school principles.

Why it matters: There's a lot the U.S. can learn from the way other countries have handled this global pandemic — although we may not be able to apply those lessons as quickly as we'd like.

Go deeperArrowMar 28, 2020 - Health