States seeing new rises in infections, such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona, have lower rates for testing, according to a new Harvard analysis.
Four months into U.S. efforts to curtail the coronavirus, states are finally utilizing testing as a tool in the fight. Currently, about 500,000 tests are being conducted daily across the nation. That’s progress, but according to experts, not nearly enough to beat back the pandemic.
“We now have more states that are able to manage and mitigate the virus,” Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told NPR. “What we all really want is to suppress the virus—to get the virus level so low that we don’t have large numbers of people getting sick and dying and that we can open up our economy.”
Only 14 states and Washington, D.C., are conducting the level of testing needed to mitigate, not eliminate, the spread of coronavirus, a new analysis released by the Harvard Global Health Institute and NPR found. That means keeping the number of infections from growing, with a benchmark of 10% or fewer positive tests.
Three more states are doing better than that, with high enough levels of testing to actually suppress the spread of the virus—lowering the number of new cases enough to safely return to something like normalcy in everyday life.
Vermont, Hawaii, and Alaska are the top leading states, with the 14 others being Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The other two-thirds of the nation don’t even come close.
When HGHI last surveyed testing, as of May 7, the U.S. was conducting only 250,000 tests daily. So doubling that to 500,000 tests daily is positive growth, but experts say due to the size and scope of the threat the nation should be doing a million daily to tamp down on the spread of the virus. It would take 4 million tests a day to help suppress it. States with lower rates for testing, such as Florida, Texas, and Arizona, are also seeing record increase in infections.
“The surges we’re seeing in large parts of the country are due in part because those states opened up too quickly and they relaxed way too much given how much virus they had in their community—and they lacked testing,” Jha said. “These two things really go hand in hand.”
President Trump has pushed for states to reopen since April. Last month, he also told a campaign rally crowd that he instructed his administration to slow down testing to avoid the detection of more cases, even though public health experts have made clear that increased testing is the best way to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.