Looking at the experience of other countries, it appears that it is possible to avoid draconian shutdowns with extensive testing and follow-up isolation of those infected. That was the approach in South Korea and Singapore which, despite their proximity to and interaction with China, have been largely spared in the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a false start1, testing for the coronavirus in the US is beginning to take off. Yesterday, slightly over 100,000 cases were completed and 146,000 were administered.2 That brings the total US tests completed to just under 520,000.3
The US has now conducted more tests than any other country in the world on a gross basis, but it still trails several countries on a per capita basis.4 However, 100,000 tests per day far outstrips any other country’s testing capability and the US per capita number should rise quickly.
The best news is that the number of negative results still greatly exceeds positive cases. So far, only slightly over 15% of the tests are coming back positive. Since testing is currently focused on those with symptoms, that rate will probably go down over time as a wider cohort is tested. South Korea, where testing was done much more extensively, has only found about 7% of its tests positive.
There was a big jump in the number of pending cases yesterday from the previous day, which may indicate that the labs which process the tests are getting backed up. I heard one TMC executive this week say his institution is waiting days to get test results back which negates much of the value of the test.
If this rate of testing holds up, we should begin to have a much better data set to study in the next week or so. Do not be shocked to see the number of new cases go up with more testing. Hopefully, however, that larger database will be able to inform a more nuanced approach to dealing with the virus.
No. 1 – There has been a lot of finger pointing about what initially went wrong with US testing. The New Yorker Magazine has a good article tracking the history of the problems, which highlights how the US regulatory rules contributed to the problem. The frequent claim that the US turned down test kits from the WHO is mostly not accurate. Snopes graded the claim a mixture of true and false.
No. 2 – This testing data comes from https://covidtracking.com/, a site complied by a group of journalist. The actual spreadsheet tracking daily testing results can be found [here]. A New York Times article this morning shows similar numbers.
No. 3. – I could not find any comprehensive table on testing by country. But various news reports and some countries’ individual public health websites indicated that most of the hot spot countries have tested in the 300,000 – 400,000 range. Most are testing in the tens of thousands at this point daily. None that I could find are even approaching 100,000 per day. I could find no data on China’s testing.