Finally, the level of positive tests has become much more reliable nationally over the past few weeks. At the end of March, not all countries reported every negative test result from a commercial laboratory. Almost every state now publishes these figures.
Although our numbers still might not catch every coronavirus test in the U.S., outside evidence now shows that our data is quite complete. When the White House Coronavirus Task Force has reported the number of tests completed nationally, the numbers are broadly consistent with the COVID Tracking Project. In addition, the largest commercial test processors, Quest and LabCorp, have released top-line statistics that are consistent with our statistics on the COVID Tracking Project.
The high level of positivity also shows that new cases in the US have stabilized simply because the country has reached the highest limit in its testing capacity. Looking solely on the positive, the US is steaming toward 650,000 confirmed cases, but the number of new cases per day seems flat or even declining.
There are several ways to interpret this development. For example, it might suggest that more than 3.2 million tests completed in the US over the past two months have finally caught the majority of people who are actually infected. Although it is clear that the country is not catching every case, the decline in new positive cases may suggest that the country is starting to control the spread of the virus.
But there are other ways to interpret the decline in new cases: Growth in the number of new tests completed per day is also very high. Since April 1, the country has tested around 145,000 people every day without a stable upward trajectory. The growth in the number of new cases per day, and the growth in the number of new tests per day, correlates very closely.
This close correlation shows that if the United States tests more people, we might still see an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases. And combined with a high level of test positivity, this shows that unknown COVID-19 reserves throughout the country are still very large.
Each case that does not count is a small tragedy and a microcosm of all ways the U.S. testing infrastructure still failed. When Sarah Pavis, a 36-year-old engineer in New York, woke up on Tuesday, she was out of breath and her heart was beating fast. An hour of deep breathing failed to calm his pulse. When his extremities began to tingle, he called 911. It was the ninth day of the symptoms of COVID-19.
New York City’s positivity rate is 55 percent which is amazing. More than 111,000 city residents have it laboratory confirmed cases COVID-19, but Pavis is not among them. When the ambulance arrived at Pavis’s apartment, an EMS worker took his genitals, then explained that there was little he could do to help. City hospitals only accept people with blood-oxygen levels of 94 percent or lower, he said. The Pavis blood oxygen reading is 96 percent. The 2 percent difference means that the disease is not serious enough to be hospitalized, not serious enough to be tested, not serious enough to be counted.
* This article previously used the wrong epidemiological term to describe the number of cases of disease in a population. The correct term is prevalenceno incidence.
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