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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Even if you’re able to get tested for the coronavirus, it’ll still take about a week to get the results back — which means the U.S. still doesn’t have a real-time handle on the number of infected people.

Why it matters: We need to know where the virus is spreading in order to get a lid on those outbreaks before they become catastrophic.

  • Testing more people is part of that, and the U.S. is improving on that front. But we’re still working with outdated data, giving the virus a pretty big head start before we can even spot new problems.

What we’re hearing: An Arlington, Virginia, resident told Axios he got tested a week ago, but his results have now been delayed twice; he’ll likely end up waiting nine to 10 days for his results.

  • There are other anecdotal reports of test results taking about seven days.
  • Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, the two private companies that have helped the U.S. ramp up its testing, both say they deliver results in an average of four to five days.

We saw this play out with Sen. Rand Paul. It took six days to get the results back from his coronavirus test, and he returned to work in the Senate during that time.

  • Paul turned out to be infected, which means he was putting other people at risk by adhering to his normal routine over the course of those six days. The same goes for anyone who doesn’t isolate themselves while waiting days for test results.

Delayed results also give us a distorted view of how bad the outbreak is.

  • We’re still not testing enough people, so we know the official count — more than 60,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. — is too low.
  • That tally of confirmed cases, in addition to being incomplete, is outdated.
  • Because it takes four to five days for test results to come back, today’s update in the number of confirmed cases doesn’t actually tell us how many people have coronavirus today. It tells us how many people had coronavirus four to five days ago.
  • And in four to five days, we’ll find out how many people had coronavirus today. And it will be spreading while we wait.

What’s next: The Food and Drug Administration signed off last week on a new test that can deliver results within about 45 minutes.

  • At least for now, that test will be somewhat limited. Hospitals will use it to quickly diagnose patients with severe symptoms who are likely to be admitted and need a fast, accurate diagnosis to begin treatment.
  • LabCorp and Quest didn’t answer questions about whether their average turnaround times are getting longer or shorter, though Quest says it “cannot accommodate everyone who wants testing and meet tight turnaround time expectations” because demand is growing faster than supply.

The bottom line: Testing is supposed to serve two purposes: getting individual patients a diagnosis and tracking the spread of the virus to help contain it.

  • The tests are only available to diagnose the sickest patients because we don’t have enough tests and the supplies needed for testing, the results take so long to come back, and the coronavirus has spread so widely while we’ve been playing catch-up.
  • And that means we’re not making the most of it as a tool to contain the outbreak and prevent more illnesses.

Go deeper: The problems with our coronavirus testing are worse than you think

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.

Del Rio bridge camp empty following Haitian migrant surge

A boy bathes himself in a jug of water inside a migrant camp at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sept. 21 in Del Rio, Texas. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The last migrants camping under the Del Rio International Bridge, which connects Texas and Mexico, departed on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced during a White House press briefing.

Driving the news: Thousands of migrants, mostly from Haiti, had arrived to the makeshift camp after crossing the southern border seeking asylum. Roughly 1,800 migrants will now head to U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing centers.

White House says it expects federal contractors to be vaccinated by Dec. 8

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House said in new guidance Friday that it expects millions of federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus no later than Dec. 8.

Why it matters: Companies with federal contractors have been waiting for formal guidance from the White House before requiring those employees to get vaccinated, according to Reuters.