The impact of COVID-19 testing blind spots in the U.S.

Posted at 10:14 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-01 22:18:25-04

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Without proper testing capacity, health experts say it’s hard to fathom the exact extent of coronavirus/COVID-19 in the U.S. as states could be underestimating the size of their outbreaks.

The White House announced Tuesday that 1 million Americans had been tested for the virus, and the country’s labs are processing more than 100,000 samples per day.

Still, that means only 320 of every 100,000 people have been tested so far.

With more than 1,000 virus-related deaths, we know the state of New York -- and New York City specifically -- have become the epicenter of the outbreak in America. New York also has the country’s highest testing capacity, meaning we have a clearer understanding of the virus’ impact there.

There are now growing numbers of hot spots emerging across the country, in places like Louisiana and Michigan, where testing gaps are hurting efforts.

Michigan, which opened its first drive-thru testing site in Detroit this week, saw its number of coronavirus cases jump to the thousands in one day. According to the CDC, Michigan now has the fourth-most cases in the country, but its per capita testing rate is still less than one-third of New York’s. Ohio is currently 16th in cases followed by Indiana in 17th and Kentucky in 31st.

California, the country’s most populous state, only averages 2,136 tests each day, and more than 57,400 people have pending test results, according to reporting by The Atlantic. New York has tested 13 times more people per capita.

Not having a handle on testing can also negatively impact the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, gloves and gowns.

If a patient enters a facility with virus-like symptoms, medical professionals must act as though the patient has COVID-19 since the test is the only way to tell for sure. But if that test comes back negative, it means professionals used PPE unnecessarily.

Health officials say that testing blinds spots not only make it harder to slow the spread of COVID-19, it can also make it tough to know when it’s safe to ease social distancing measures.