Data: The COVID Tracking Project, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Some states — generally those without major coronavirus outbreaks — are doing enough testing for now, at least according to one metric.

Between the lines: Although the U.S. as a whole still falls far short of where it needs to be on testing, several individual states are testing enough people to put their positive rate at or below 10% of the total number of people tested — an important indicator of whether the state can successfully identify new outbreaks.

The big picture: The World Health Organization has recommended that coronavirus testing should be prolific enough that only 10% or less of the tests come back positive, according to NPR, although some experts say the rate should be even lower.

  • That indicates that a large enough testing net is being cast to catch all of the infections in the community, which is key to then stopping the spread of the virus.
  • “If you have a very high positive rate, it means that there are probably a good number of people out there who have the disease who you haven’t tested,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, recently told the New York Times.
  • “You want to drive the positive rate down, because the fundamental element of keeping our economy open is making sure you’re identifying as many infected people as possible and isolating them," he added.

Yes, but: Outbreaks are not static, and states that are testing a small portion of their population, yet have a low positive rate, could be overwhelmed by cases down the road.

Testing shortages have led to tests generally being reserved for health care workers and the sickest patients, meaning that a lot of mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic people aren't being tested at all.

  • We're also not yet doing surveillance testing on the scale needed.
  • Some states — like New York or Massachusetts — are completing more tests than others after adjusting for population, but still have a higher positivity rate. That means that those states have a much larger caseload than others, and thus need to test more.

What we're watching: As states begin to lift social distancing measures, those who do so while their positive rate is still high will be particularly vulnerable to new outbreaks.

Go deeper

Aug 7, 2020 - Health

Study finds COVID-19 antibodies prevalent in NYC health care workers

Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

More than 13% of health care workers in the greater New York City area tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, according to a newly published study.

Why it matters: The rate at which health care professionals tested positive for antibodies is consistent with the rate of COVID-19 antibodies found among randomly tested adults in the state of New York. The data released Thursday "is important so [health care workers] can protect themselves, their patients, their colleagues, and their families," per JAMA researchers.

Updated Aug 4, 2020 - Health

The states where face coverings are mandatory

Data: Compiled by Axios; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued a statewide mask mandate on Tuesday for people in public, as well as teachers and students going back to school.

The big picture: 34 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, have issued some form of a mask mandate as infections surge across the country.

Aug 6, 2020 - Health

Majority of Americans say states reopened too quickly during pandemic

Photo: Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald/Getty Images

About 69% of U.S. adults said they worry that states reopened too quickly as the country continues to confront the coronavirus pandemic, according to a national survey released Thursday by Pew Research Center.

The big picture: Almost three-quarters of American adults said the economy would fare better if the government focused on reducing infections so consumers were more comfortable visiting restaurants and retailers. Roughly six in 10 respondents said the U.S.'s response to the pandemic has been less effective compared to other wealthy nations around the world.