May 20, 2020 - Health

Many Americans live in places with no coronavirus test sites

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

More than half of U.S. counties don’t have a single coronavirus testing site, according to a recent report by Castlight, a health software company.

Why it matters: That leaves a wide swath of the country — particularly rural areas — vulnerable to undetected coronavirus outbreaks, especially as lockdown measures ease. Asking people to travel long distances to get a coronavirus test is both unrealistic and potentially dangerous.

By the numbers: 54% of all counties don’t have a testing site.

  • Among counties with 50,000 or more people, 38% don’t have any testing sites.
  • Among rural counties with fewer than 10,000 residents, 68% don’t have any.
  • And even among counties that do have testing sites, 58% don’t have the capacity to meet minimum recommended testing levels, which Castlight defined as 1% of their population every week.

In Texas, for example, big cities have enough testing capacity to meet Castlight's thresholds, but there's a cluster of 26 counties — and 315,000 residents — in the middle of the state with no testing access.

The big picture: Commitment from retailers like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart to open new testing sites could help close some of these gaps.

  • CVS recently announced that it plans to have opened up to 1,000 self-swab testing sites around the country by the end of May.
  • These sites will primarily be located at pharmacies with drive-through capabilities, although in a handful of cases, the company is establishing parking lot test sites.

Some cities, including New Orleans, Nashville and Seattle, have set up mobile testing in order to reach communities without adequate testing access.

The bottom line: There’s no geographic barrier that prevents the coronavirus from spreading to counties without the ability to test for it, especially in states that are reopening while their caseloads are still high.

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.

About 40.7 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the coronavirus pandemic began, including 2.1 million more claims filed from last week.

Why it matters: Even as states reopen their economies, Americans are still seeking relief. Revised data out Thursday also showed U.S. economy shrunk by an annualized 5% in the first quarter — worse than the initially estimate of 4.8%.

California hospitals strained by patients coming from Mexico amid pandemic

An ambulance crosses the San Ysidro sentry box border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico. Photo: Francisco Vega/Getty Images

Small community hospitals in Southern California have been overwhelmed with U.S. citizens and residents crossing the border from Mexico back into the states for COVID-19 treatment, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Many retirees, dual citizens and Americans working or visiting family in Mexico have continued to cross the border despite both countries' attempts to limit travel. And a special pandemic protocol to bring ill patients between the two countries has caused coronavirus cases to surge in bordering counties.

Coronavirus still has a foothold in the South

Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Overall, new coronavirus infections in the U.S. are on the decline. But a small handful of states, mainly clustered in the South, aren't seeing any improvement.

The big picture: Our progress, nationwide, is of course good news. But it's fragile progress, and it’s not universal. Stubborn pockets of infection put lives at risk, and they can spread, especially as state lockdowns continue to ease.