Special Report

Nearly All States Are Undertesting for COVID-19 and Here's What It Looks Like

More than 1.3 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus since the first case was confirmed in the U.S. on Jan. 21, 2020. From President Donald Trump down to state and local leaders, officials have compared the fight against COVID-19 to a war. Unlike a traditional wartime enemy, however, the virus is invisible — a complicating factor partially attributable to the woeful lack of testing capabilities in the United States.  

Testing is a critical COVID-19 containment tool as it enables us to identify those who are infected and isolate them from healthy people. According to researchers at Harvard University, the U.S. needs to be able to conduct a minimum of about 152 daily tests for every 100,000 people in order to safely reopen the economy — a standard very few states are currently able to meet. Over the week ending on May 11, the average daily rate nationwide was just 92 tests administered for every 100,000 people.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed the average number of daily tests administered for every 100,000 people to determine how far off each state is for meeting the minimum recommended testing levels to safely reopen. In 20 states, average daily testing rates are less than half of what is recommended. 

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Mark Siedner, associate professor of infectious diseases at Harvard University, laid out some of the reasons widespread testing takes time. Necessary levels of testing requires personnel to conduct and process the tests, machines to run specimens, and a reliable international supply chain. “You’re really asking the diagnostic community to go from zero to millions in a week or two,” Siedner said. 

Testing efforts in the U.S. were initially slowed when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed in its attempt to develop a working test for the virus. In response, the federal government lifted restrictions on March 3, allowing health care companies to develop and distribute their own tests. 

Despite limited testing capabilities, many states are letting their stay-at-home orders expire and are easing other restrictions. Many experts fear that these premature reopenings will lead to a second wave of the virus. Here is when every state plans to lift COVID-19 restrictions

“The worst thing that can happen is that we [reopen] blindly, without measuring its effects, clearly and carefully,” Siedner warned.

Click here to see all the states’ testing levels for COVID-19
Click here to read our methodology