June 26th, 2020

// COVID-19 Testing – The U.S. is STILL in the Middle of the Pack

COVID-19 Testing – The U.S. is STILL in the Middle of the Pack

COVID-19 cases have surged tremendously in the U.S. in the last couple of weeks.  The latest excuse cited by some federal and state government officials is that the increase is the result of more testing.  This note challenges those assertions as flatly dishonest.  

Below is a graph comparing the total testing done by about 40 countries over the last ten weeks.  These countries include most of Europe, plus relatively affluent countries in the rest of the world – it would be unreasonable to include poor and developing nations in this comparison.  The metric used is Strategic Tests (see note below for further detail), which measures the extent to which a country is testing proactively in its effort to control the spread of the pandemic.  

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Strategic testing has improved significantly in the U.S., from being virtually nonexistent ten weeks ago.  But most of the other countries shown have made similar increases.  Of the 41 countries shown, as of yesterday (6/25) the U.S. ranks 24th in number of Strategic Tests per 1MM population.  Most of the countries included in the above graph have seen significant declines in the number of new cases reported over the last ten weeks, which is not true in the U.S.  If the increase in reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is due to increased testing, why has the number of new cases continued to decline in those countries, but not the U.S.?  

NOTE:  The testing metric used is “Strategic Tests”.  Total testing includes both “necessary tests” and “strategic tests”.  Necessary tests arise because a case has occurred:  a person complaining of symptoms must be tested at least once to confirm the diagnosis and at least two more times to confirm recovery, and the patient’s immediate family and other obvious suspects must be tested as well.  We estimate that every reported COVID-19 case generates an average of six Necessary Tests.  

Strategic Tests equals Total Tests – as reported in Worldometer – minus Necessary Tests.  Strategic Tests measure a country’s proactive efforts to control the spread of the pandemic.  Strategic Tests would include, for example, testing done as the result of contact tracing, and regular (and possibly frequent) testing of people working in medically sensitive industries such as health care, food services, and public safety.  

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