Here’s how many people are actually getting tested for the coronavirus in the U.S.

coronavirus test
Photo via Navy Medicine/Flickr (Public Domain)
  • In April, the U.S. averaged about 146,000 tests per day
  • More than 116 million Americans have been tested overall
  • Those numbers need to double to safely ease distancing measures

Near the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, the United States was woefully slow to begin widespread testing. This slow start has been widely politicized, with each side of the political aisle placing blame on the other. Average Americans remain confused over how much coronavirus testing is actually happening within our borders and how much testing we still need to complete to safely reopen the country. So, how many people have been tested for the coronavirus?

According to the COVID Tracking Project, more than 116.4 million Americans had been tested for COVID-19 as of Oct. 12. The population of the U.S. is an estimated 329 million. 

California has administered the highest number of tests. The state had processed more than 16.19 million tests as of Oct. 12. The next closest state, New York, had processed more than 12.13 million tests. Wyoming had the lowest number of processed tests, at only 110,900.

Each new day in April saw an average of about 146,000 people getting tested. To reopen the country by May, researchers at Harvard estimated tests will need to increase by more than double. Researchers believe between 500,000 and 700,000 tests should be administered country-wide on a daily basis. This is necessary so that any carriers for the virus can be identified and isolated in an effort to mitigate the spread. 

Despite the fact that far more coronavirus testing is needed, a Nature investigation found thousands of unused tests languishing in labs. A researcher at Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard told the publication that the lab is currently processing about half of what they are capable of. The website wrote that “regulatory, logistic, and administrative obstacles” have been limiting their ability to process more tests. 

Claims that the U.S. has performed more testing per capita than anywhere else in the world are false, according to an NPR analysis. U.S. testing was at about 1 in every 273 people at the beginning of April. The U.K., in the same time period, had tested around 1 in every 404 people. The countries that were doing the most testing per capita were South Korea and Germany. The two countries have tested approximately 1 in every 119 people and 1 in every 90 people, respectively. 

On June 20, President Donald Trump said at a rally in Oklahoma that he wanted to slow down testing, because with more testing, “you’re gonna find more people, you’re gonna find more cases.” His staff claimed he was kidding, but on June 23, Trump tweeted, “Cases are going up in the U.S. because we are testing far more than any other country, and ever expanding. With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!”

On July 28, Bill Gates said the majority of American testing was “a complete waste,” because it could take 3-7 days before the test’s results are known.

On Aug. 9, Gates continued his criticism, telling CNN (via the Hill) that the U.S. had “testing insanity.” Said Gates: “It’s mind-blowing that you can’t get the government to improve the testing because they just want to say how great it is. … You’re paying billions of dollars in this very inequitable way to get the most worthless testing results in the world. No other country has the testing insanity because they won’t talk about fixing it, because they think they need to just keep acting like they’ve done a competent job.”

Sources: New York Times, The COVID Tracking Project, Harvard Global Health Institute, NPR, Politico, Nature

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