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Aug. 5, 2020, 3:28 p.m. EDT

Coronavirus testing in the U.S. is dropping, even as deaths mount

An Associated Press analysis stated that the number of tests per day dropped 3.6% over the past two weeks

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By Associated Press


AFP/Getty Images
Health workers prepare to give people free COVID-19 tests.

U.S. testing for the coronavirus is dropping even as infections remain high and the death toll rises by more than 1,000 a day, a worrisome trend that officials attribute largely to Americans getting discouraged over having to wait hours to get a test and days or weeks to find out the results.

An Associated Press analysis found that the number of tests per day slid 3.6% over the past two weeks to 750,000, with the count falling in 22 states. That includes places like Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Iowa where the percentage of positive tests is high and continuing to climb, an indicator that the virus is still spreading uncontrolled.

Amid the crisis, some health officials are calling for the introduction of a different type of test that would yield results in a matter of minutes and would be cheap and simple enough for millions of Americans to test themselves — but would also be less accurate.

“There’s a sense of desperation that we need to do something else,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute.

Widespread testing is considered essential to containing the outbreak as the U.S. approaches a mammoth 5 million confirmed infections and more than 157,000 deaths out of over 700,000 worldwide.

Testing demand is expected to surge again this fall, when schools reopen and flu season hits, most likely outstripping supplies and leading to new delays and bottlenecks.

Some of the decline in testing over the past few weeks was expected after backlogged commercial labs urged doctors to concentrate on their highest-risk patients. But some health and government officials are seeing growing public frustration and waning demand.

In Iowa, state officials are reporting less interest in testing, despite ample supplies. The state’s daily testing rate peaked in mid-July but has declined 40% in the last two weeks.

“We have the capacity. Iowans just need to test,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week.

Jessica Moore of rural Newberry, South Carolina, said that after a private lab lost her COVID-19 test results in mid-July, she had to get re-tested at a pop-up site organized by the state.

Moore and her husband arrived early on a Saturday morning at the site, a community center, where they waited for two hours for her test. Moore watched in the rear-view mirror as people drove up, saw the long line of cars, and then turned around and left.

“If people have something to do on a Saturday and they want to get tested, they’re not going to wait for two hours in the South Carolina heat for a test, especially if they’re not symptomatic,” Moore said.

Before traveling from Florida to Delaware last month, Laura DuBose Schumacher signed up to go to a drive-up testing site in Orlando with her husband. They were given a one-hour window in which to arrive.

They got there at the start of the window, but after 50 minutes it looked as if the wait would be another hour. Others who had gone through the line told them that they wouldn’t get their results until five days later, a Monday, at the earliest. They were planning to travel the next day, so they gave up.

“Monday would have been pointless, so we left the line,” Schumacher said.

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