May 18, 2020 - Health

Most states still aren't doing enough coronavirus testing

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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, Harvard Global Health Institute; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Most states still aren't doing enough coronavirus testing, especially those that have suffered from larger outbreaks, according to recent testing targets calculated by the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Between the lines: It's much harder to contain the virus once a lot of people have it — which is why we needed strong social distancing in the first place. But knowing who is infected is the foundation of containment going forward, and most states are still behind.

The big picture: Nationally, the U.S. needs to be doing about 900,000 tests a day, according to the Harvard estimate, which was released earlier this month.

  • But not all states need to be doing the same amount of tests. The goal Harvard suggested for each state — the number of tests they should have done on May 15 was calculated based on the size of its outbreak as of early May.
  • That means that New York needs to be doing a much larger number of tests each day than Wyoming, even after accounting for the states' huge population discrepancy.

Why it matters: Most states have already begun reopening to some extent, even without key public health tools — like testing and contact tracing — fully built up.

  • That increases the chance that the virus will spread undetected as people begin interacting with one another again.
  • And these premature measures may just increase the number of tests a state needs, especially because the estimates were based on the assumption states would remain closed until May 15.
  • “The moment you relax, the number of cases will start climbing. And therefore, the number of tests you need to keep your society, your state from having large outbreaks will also start climbing," Harvard's Ashish Jha warned.

Go deeper

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

More than 100,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins — a milestone that puts the death toll far beyond some of the most tragic events in U.S. history.

By the numbers: Over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Nearly 354,000 Americans have recovered and over 15.1 million tests have been conducted. California became the fourth state with at least 100,000 reported cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, along with Illinois, New Jersey and New York.

New research suggests coronavirus spread began in U.S. in mid-February

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New research suggests that the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state was likely started by someone who came to the U.S. in mid-February, not by the first confirmed infection in the country, STAT reports.

Why it matters: The research indicates that the U.S. could have been more successful in mitigating community spread of the virus had it acted sooner.

PPP failed to get money to industries and areas most in need

Data: U.S. Small Business Administration; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) "appears to have missed the mark," S&P Global chief economist Beth Ann Bovino writes in a research report to be released today.

What it means: The PPP's first round largely skipped over states and industries that were the most in need, while the second round still has 39% of allocated cash remaining, even as many businesses are at risk of permanent closure.