9 states performing enough COVID-19 tests to reopen safely, Harvard researchers say

The U.S. needs to perform 900,000 COVID-19 tests per day to safely phase out social distancing measures, according to projections released May 7 by Harvard's Global Health Institute. 

The newest projection of testing need is a big jump from its earlier projection, which indicated the U.S. needed to process 500,000 to 600,000 tests per day to lift restrictions by June. The testing estimates increased because the latest modeling shows more people getting infected and dying of COVID-19 than previously projected, Ashish Jha, MD, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute told NPR. 

On May 7, Harvard's Global Health Institute published a simulation that estimates the testing needed by May 15 in each state. The amount of testing needed depends on several factors, including the size of the outbreak in each state, Dr. Jha told NPR. The following nine states are near or have exceeded the estimates of minimum testing needed: Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. 

Many of the states hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, including New York, are far from the testing minimums estimated by Harvard. 

Dr. Jha told NPR there are several caveats about the estimates, and the numbers should be used as a guide and not taken literally. Researchers also said testing alone is not enough. The model is built on the assumption that states are doing contact tracing and isolating infected or exposed people. 

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