Most states still fall short of recommended COVID-19 testing levels
WASHINGTON — As businesses reopened Friday in more of the U.S., more than 4 out of 5 states still fall short of the COVID-19 testing levels that public health experts say are necessary to safely ease lockdowns and avoid another deadly wave of outbreaks, according to an Associated Press analysis.
Rapid, widespread testing is considered essential to tracking and containing the coronavirus. But 41 states fail to test widely enough to drive their infections below a key benchmark, according to an AP analysis of metrics developed by Harvard’s Global Health Institute.
Among the states falling short are Texas and Georgia, which moved aggressively last month to reopen stores, malls, barbershops and other businesses.
As health authorities expand testing to more people, the portion of positive results should shrink compared with the total number of people tested. The World Health Organization and other health researchers have said a percentage above 10% indicates inadequate testing. South Korea, a country praised for its rapid response, quickly pushed its positive cases to below 3%.
Most governors are moving ahead with unlocking their states, even in cases where they are not meeting broad guidelines recommended by the White House.
The first stage of reopening in Maryland was scheduled to take effect Friday evening, when some retail stores will be allowed to reopen and a stay-at-home order lifted. But some of the hardest-hit parts of the state, including the suburbs of Washington, D.C., extended restrictions for residents and businesses.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan made headlines last month when the state acquired 500,000 test kits from a South Korean company in a confidential deal, but Maryland has not had all the components needed for testing — like swabs — to meet demand. Hogan said Maryland just received swabs this week from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“We requested 350,000,” Hogan said Wednesday. “They’ve committed to 225,000, and I think we got 75,000 yesterday with another 125,000 that are supposedly days away, along with the tubes and the stuff that goes with them. So it’s not enough, but it helps us.”
Meanwhile, the state’s legislative leaders expressed concern about testing and contact tracing data Thursday in a letter. They have asked for full transparency on metrics involving testing, including how many full test kits the state has along with necessary materials to conduct those tests.
Researchers at Harvard University have calculated that the U.S. needs to test a minimum of 900,000 people per day to safely reopen the economy, based on the 10% positivity rate and several other key metrics. That goal is nearly three times the country’s current daily testing tally of about 360,000, according to figures compiled by the COVID Tracking Project website.
“The fact that testing has become the Achilles’ heel that has made it hard for us to have a great national response to this pandemic is a tragedy,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute. “I’d like us to have a massive amount of ubiquitous testing so that, of all the things we need to worry about, testing isn’t one of them.”
President Donald Trump insisted again this week that his administration had “met the moment” and “prevailed” on testing, even as he continued to shift responsibility for the effort to the governors. Administration officials said they will provide states with enough testing supplies to conduct about 400,000 tests per day in May and June. But that’s still less than half the total recommended by the Harvard team.